I love books. Like most loves, this love has led me to make some questionable decisions, among them: refusing to sign up for the community soccer league as a child because I wanted to stay home and read, majoring in English, studying English as a graduate student, and working in publishing. However, these questionable decisions have only intensified my love of books, which was why I couldn’t resist the offer to give free books to strangers on World Book Night.
World Book Night, according to its website, “is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books” to light or non-readers, sponsored by publishers and booksellers. Thirty books were selected to be printed as World Book Night special editions and distributed by volunteers who were each given twenty copies of a book of their choice. People (like me) who wanted to be World Book Night book givers had to submit a list of three books from the list of thirty that they would like to give out, along with a couple of sentences about which book was their top choice and why.
My top choice, and the book I ultimately distributed, was The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz. Oscar Wao was my first choice mostly because it is awesome and beautifully written, but also because I experience a somewhat bizarre identification with its protagonist, an overweight Dominican kid (not like me) who reads comics (like me) is from New Jersey (like me) attended Rutgers (like me—in fact, my dorm was two buildings away from Oscar’s on the Bishop Mall), and [spoiler alert] dies a moderately heroic, young death in Santo Domingo (not like me).
Potential book givers were also asked to submit a couple of sentences about where we hoped to distribute our books. Assuming that April 23 in Chapel Hill would be a gorgeous spring day, I selected an outdoor location. On my bus ride home from work, however, it started drizzling. It was also super cold (I think it was actually 48 degrees Fahrenheit). So, my friend Stacey, who had kindly offered to volunteer with me when the event was first advertised, and I did some scrambling and came up with an indoor location we thought would be teeming with light- to non-readers: a bar. I packed the remaining 18 copies of the book in my backpack and headed to downtown Carrboro. (Confession: Prior to World Book Night, I’d given one copy of my book to a friend and traded one with the director of UNC Press for a copy of the book she was distributing, Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Neither of these women could be considered light- or non-readers.)
Despite our initial fears that the bar would be empty at 5:30 on a Monday, we experienced very little difficulty finding people to give our books to. Stacey, who had only read half the book, had a little more luck than I did—none of the strangers she approached declined to take a copy of the book. One of the groups of people I approached declined my offer on the grounds that they didn’t have time to read. We gave copies out to waitstaff and two bartenders, the manager of the bar (who gave us permission to distribute books as long as they were not political or religious), a suntanned guy who had recently traveled to Costa Rica and was talking about cock fighting, a middle school librarian, the director of a local non-profit, a man reading a newspaper, and an assortment of other bar patrons. People were initially suspicious or confused but ultimately enthusiastic about free books.
It’s difficult to tell whether the people to whom we gave our books were truly light or non-readers, but we certainly brought books into an environment in which they’re not generally seen. (I suppose it’s important to note here that the middle school librarian was reading a book at the bar, but most other patrons were watching TV, talking about their days, or waiting for a radio interview with the Tar Heel baseball team’s head coach to start.)
So I would say World Book Night was a success. I had fun. I gave a book that I love to strangers. I talked to strangers about books. I drank a delicious craft beer and ate a soft pretzel with cheese sauce. I hung out with my friend Stacey and my fiancé Chris, who made a brief cameo. If a couple of those eighteen bar patrons read that book (or half of the book), and think about how fun reading is, and reflect on what an awesome technology the codex is, and then go out and buy a book, World Book Night was totally worth it.
P.S. Kate Torrey, director of UNC Press, gave away copies of The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, at her gym in Chapel Hill. She shared a photo of her World Book Night setup: