Yesterday, in celebration of the first annual U.S.-based World Book Night, tens of thousands of volunteer book-givers took to the streets (and the laundromats, shelters, parks, and coffee shops) of their communities to distribute free books–donated by publishers–to non-readers and individuals with limited or no access to books. The #wbnamerica hashtag on Twitter was a nonstop stream of stories, moments, and inspiration (check it out to have your faith in humanity restored 140 characters at a time), and the bookish internet is filled today with tales that will warm the cockles of your jaded literary heart.
Some of us here at Book Riot (and one special guest author) participated as book givers. These are our stories.
Here are a couple of photos from this morning’s hand-out at the local Starbucks in Butte, Montana. This was a great experience for me, as a reader, blogger and book evangelist. I went through my 20 books in less than an hour–it would have been even faster if there had been more customers coming into Starbucks. I only had one person decline my offer of “a free book–no strings attached.” I pity that poor man who will go to bed tonight severely lacking in literary riches. Everyone else walked out of the Starbucks excited to read their new copy of Peace Like a River by Leif Enger. Most of them started reading it while they were waiting for their lattes to be made. Every single person thanked me for the book as they left the coffee shop. This is one global movement I was proud to be a part of.
Rebecca Joines Schinsky:
When World Book Night was announced, I had this grand plan to try to accompany a bunch of different book givers on their outings to document and write about the experience here. My local indie was a book pick-up point, so I knew I’d have the opportunity to make the connections, but I didn’t fully appreciate the logistical juggling the project would require. In the midst of attempting to plan, I failed to apply to be a book giver myself. Lucky for me, the folks at Fountain Bookstore had an extra box of Bel Canto. I’ve not read the book yet, but I hear it’s quite beautiful, so I chose to take it to Planned Parenthood, where the very surprised receptionist assured me she would make it available to employees and patients. I hope it will help them discover the warmth, comfort, and escape so many books have given me.
I passed out 25 copies of Patti Smith’s memoir Just Kids on Hollywood Blvd in 20 minutes. I could see apprehension in the eyes of most people I approached, they clearly thought I was handing out bibles for some religion. I had to rush to explain that the religion was reading and the bible was National Book Award-winning. Very few people refused the book. A group of girls returning from a birthday party squealed and clapped their hands, drunkenly shrieking “Happy Birthday to everyone!!!” The remaining copy of the book I passed off to a man dressed as a Transformer. When someone accepted a copy, I waved them goodbye with a “Happy World Book Night.” This is one of my new favorite holidays, you guys, and I REALLY like Halloween and the 4th of July.
I had more books than a lot of givers did. My bookstore had some unclaimed boxes and asked me if I wanted to take extra. I couldn’t refuse. So when I walked into Hermann Park this afternoon, it was with 30 copies of 3 different titles – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and The Kite Runner. I chose a spot, set up a little display, and waited for people to come to me. I did this for two reasons. First, I’m actually kind of shy, and the idea of walking up to people scared me a bit. I had also promised my students I would stay in one spot for a while so they could find me easily. None of them showed up, but plenty of other people found their way to me. They stopped, talked, and walked away with a book in their hands.
I had people look at me warily, and some of them kept walking. Others had a hard time believing that the books were really free. The best were the ones who had seen someone else carrying a book, asked about it, and were pointed in my direction. A little girl ran up, followed by her mother, asking if they could have a book, too. She rewarded me by telling me her favorite books to read at bedtime. A young couple wandered by, and they talked about how they would read the books together, talking about them long into the night. For them, World Book Night = Date Night. Three teenagers walked up, excited to get a book for free, and they discussed whether or not they should all get the same one so they could talk about it. An older gentleman said the book was just the motivation he needed to finally get those reading glasses. Another asked, “are you sure you aren’t trying to sell me Amway or something?” I assured him that I was not. A young doctor thanked me, not for the book, but “just for doing this.” I don’t think I’ve ever done anything where the thanks I received has ever meant so much.
Robert Goolrick (author of A Reliable Wife, which was a WBN selection) got in on the action, distributing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks:
I gave the books out at a retirement home in Kilmarnock Virginia. They were excited. They have ten in libraries for the guests, and then have ten more to give away.
Nothing like World Book Night Nothing has ever happened before in the US, and I am very proud to be a a part of it.
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