I’ve given a lot of things away for free: water bottles during races, t-shirts at events, food and drinks at information nights, buttons at various events. I’ve seen that human beings tend to get overly-enthused when they see FREE attached to anything – even if they don’t want whatever it is. They’ll scramble and push and step on others to get to the source, but the final product is usually disappointingly plastic or fake or attached to strings that involve signing up for a service. World Book Night is different.
Started last year in the U.K. and expanded for 2012 to the U.S.A. and Ireland, it’s all about spreading the love of reading. Dozens of publishers and related companies (paper, graphics, book stores) donated their services and products to make this event happen. The authors of the 30 World Book Night books also waived their royalty fees. The specially produced books, complete with a letter from Carl Lennertz and Anna Quindlen, were shipped, twenty to a box, to bookstores around the country where they were given out to “Book Givers” to distribute on April 23rd, the UNESCO International Day of the Book, chosen in honor of Shakespeare and Cervantes, who both died on April 23, 1616.
Actually meant to entice light or non-readers to give reading another chance, some of the books will inevitably go to those who already read voraciously – and hopefully those people will pass their books on when they have read them! Or, better yet, they’ll encourage others to go out and buy the book on their recommendation.
With a minimal budget, and a staff of two – yes, two! – this first year of WBN America went surprisingly well. There have been complaints about not receiving bookmarks (remember that FREE idea from earlier?) or about not being assigned a first book choice to give out. (Hunger Games ran out first, I believe.) Here in Montclair, where Watchung Booksellers was a book pick-up spot, sixty book givers were assigned to pick up their boxes beginning April 20th. According to Margot, at Watchung Booksellers, WBN book givers were planning on handing out books at the Family Court in Newark, a shelter for abused women, Toni’s Kitchen, Human Needs Food Pantry, Montclair Parks, parent support groups in the schools, and many other locations in our area.
I applied early on, and I chose a book I thought might be unfamiliar to some people and not as popular as the more recent titles. I chose Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and I included a note with the book explaining my choice. Basically, it can be read in chapters, so for the time-constrained or reluctant readers, it’s easy to digest. Also, it deals with topics that are often ignored or avoided, which can make them seem shameful. It is a piece of fiction, some say memoir, that reminds us of the lingering effect that war can have on veterans; something that is too easy to ignore.
I’ve given away most of my books. Several were to the plumbers and carpenters in my home, a few more left my hands at the YMCA, and still others went to new owners on my block. I’m planning to find people in the next day or so who I think would either enjoy or truly benefit from the book. Spreading the love of reading is a lot more fun than handing out plastic toys at a trade show, I tell you.