It isn't often that I get to be a part of something big but I had the distinct privilege to be a Book Giver again this year for World Book Night 2013. Now in its second year in the US, World Book Night is aimed not at book devourers like me but at people who don't read or don't read much. The advisory board at WBN manages to come up with a list of thirty marvelous books (fiction and non-, classic and contemporary) and then, volunteers, some 25,000 of them this year, give those copies away to light readers. Somehow, the folks at WBN have been able to get everyone--publishers, authors, printers, binders, shippers--to do it for free. The aim is to give away half a million books in the US and UK in one day. That's big, especially at a time when reading books is low on the list of priorities for most people.
I've said it before but the thing I miss most about bookselling was when I used to finish a book, close the back cover and think to myself "Who is going to love this book? Who needs to read this? I can't wait to get to work to put this book in someone's hands". WBN allows me to do that again, to recapture that feeling after all these years away from the bookstore floor.
My choice was City of Thieves by David Benioff which I raved about in 2009 (http://goo.gl/OIWIr). Whereas last year, I focused on giving books to co-workers and neighbors, this year I thought I'd go with the flow a bit more even though the first four copies I gave away were at my job.
To start, I gave a copy to the woman who runs the day care where I take my dog and a woman my wife teaches with who was dropping off her dog at the same time. Both were delighted.
Then it was on to the barber shop where two of the barbers were interested. Oddly, a fellow getting his hair cut had just read the book and raved about it with me.
From there I went shopping and as I got out of my car, I noticed an older gent reading the newspaper in his car, presumably waiting for his wife while she shopped. I asked him if he'd like a copy of a "really terrific book" and once I told him I had no agenda, wasn't asking for money, and the book espoused no religious beliefs, political convictions or conspiracy theories, he agreed. When I told him it was set during World War II, he thanked me and explained to me how important it was to read stories like these "even if it's fiction".
Home for lunch, I gave away two copies to neighbors of mine, neither of whom read at all. Both were out doing yard work and I got to revisit my handselling skills. After telling them about the story, they were hooked. As Ralph Malph used to say, "I still got it".
Next was my mechanic who swears he's so tired at days ends, he hasn't read in years but after my summary of the story and the fact that 25,000 people like me were giving away so many books in one day, he said he'd be honored to accept a copy.
A nearby firehouse was my next stop. Knowing these folks have a lot of downtime between runs, it was a no-brainer. The two firemen I spoke with couldn't have been more grateful and asked for an extra copy. My pleasure.
Mrs. Next had plans with friends that evening so I was a swingin' bachelor and went to a favorite neighborhood dump for wings and a burger. Sitting at the bar, I chatted with one of the regulars with whom I have a nodding relationship (we don't actually know each other but I've frequented the place long enough that the regulars nod at me when I come in). He, too, left with a book that evening.
The only person who turned me down was Peter who runs the gas station nearby. He said his English wasn't good enough and if he took a copy but didn't read it, he wouldn't be "respecting the book". I thanked him.
I'm saving my last copy. Not for me, of course. It's for a young man whom I watched grow up. His family lives a block away, we've known them a long time and I've always been fond of him. Bright, energetic, and with a sly smile, in his twenties he was diagnosed as schizophrenic. Now he walks all over the area in shirt and tie, usually doing good deeds like raking lawns or shoveling snow. He refuses to take money though I'm sure he could use it. He has good days mostly and I always stop him to ask how he's doing and how he's spending his time. He was always a reader but now he turns almost exclusively to his Bible. It is my hope he might add this to his reading list.
So, thank you, friends, colleagues and strangers for indulging an old bookseller. What a great pleasure for me to put a book in your hands.
Thank you to everyone who made this a success.
Thank you, World Book Night HQ for allowing me to be part of something big.
Let's do this again next year.
To learn more, visit http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/