It will be sad to see World Book Night USA go. It was a crazy, ridiculous, beautiful scheme that sought to give away a million books every year on one specific day in April. The organizers quickly scaled back their goal to 500,000 books a year, but that's still a tremendous number, and over three years of giving they had a lot of success.
Every April since 2012, volunteers all over the country gave away boxes and boxes of books to anyone who wanted them, no strings attached.
In a press release this morning, though, the organizers have announced that because of financial pressures, they will cease operation in the United States. (The event began in Great Britain and Ireland four years ago, and spread to Germany for one year.)
"For three years, the publishing industry and book community have very generously footed the bill and contributed enormous time and effort, and we are so very grateful for all the support," the press release stated. "We did receive some funds via individual donations, and we worked very hard to get grants. We did get some, but there are a lot of other worthy causes out there and only so much money available. We can't carry on without significant, sustainable outside funding."
Each year, World Book Night chose 30 titles for giveaway. Publishers absorbed the cost of printing special editions of the books, authors waived their royalties, and volunteers signed up to hand out the books--at community clubs, city parks, homeless shelters, nursing homes, taverns, schools and other public places. Bookstores and libraries served as book depots, housing the titles until giveaway night, and hosting parties for givers and authors.
Titles by Minnesota writers Leif Enger, Kate DiCamillo, Garrison Keillor, Cheryl Strayed and Peter Geye were among those given away over the years.
Comedian Amy Poehler might seem an odd choice as honorary chairperson of World Book Night -- previous chairs were authors Ann Patchett, James Patterson, and Anna Quindlen -- but World Book Night's executive director says it's "a happy, happy event."
"This news is the icing, cherry and candles on the year three WBN cake," Carl Lennertz said in a prepared statement. "We've already announced a seven-author New York Public Library launch event, our highest percentage of free books going to teachers and students in underfunded schools, and a record number of participating librarians and booksellers, and Amy Poehler joining our cause is a happy, happy event. On behalf of our 25,000 volunteer givers and 500,000 book recipients this coming April 23, we say thank you."
Poehler is best known as a cast member of "Saturday Night Live" and as a star of the long-running comedy series "Parks and Recreation." But she says (in that same statement!) that she has always been a reader. "I grew up loving books," she said. "In today's digital world, it's more important than ever to know how it feels to have a good book in your hands. I'm thrilled to be part of World Book Night. People who read are people who dream, and we connect through the stories we live and tell and read."
World Book Night is an annual spring ritual, now in its third year, during which 25,000 volunteers across the United States hand out free books at random. This year's list of books includes several Minnesota authors, including Garrison Keillor and Peter Geye. Other authors--Eleanor Brown (a graduate of Macalester College) and Cheryl Strayed (a graduate of the University of Minnesota)--have Minnesota ties.
World Book Night began four years ago in Ireland and Great Britain and spread to Germany and the United States the following year. To apply as a volunteer giver of books next year (this year's givers are already set), sign up for the World Book Night newsletter.
And to check out what it's like to be a giver, here's last year's report.
Is there anyone left who hasn't read "Wild" yet? Well, after World Book Night next spring, thousands more will get the chance. The best-selling memoir is one of the 35 titles named Wednesday as one to be handed out at random on April 23, 2014, on the third annual World Book Night USA.
Books by two other Minnesota authors--"The Lighthouse Road," by Peter Geye, and "Pontoon" by Garrison Keillor--were also selected, as well as "The Weird Sisters," by Eleanor Brown, a graduate of Macalester College.
Here's the list, with links to Star Tribune reviews when available.
"The Zookeeper's Wife," by Diane Ackerman
"Kitchen Confidential," by Anthony Bourdain
"The Perks of Being a Wallflower," by Stephen Chbosky
"After the Funeral," by Agatha Christie
"Rangers Apprentice: Book One, The Ruins of Gorlan," by John Flanagan
"Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet," by Jamie Ford (In both regular print and large-print)
"The Lighthouse Road," by Peter Geye
"The Tipping Point," by Malcolm Gladwell
"Wait Til Next Year," by Doris Kearns Goodwin
"Catch-22," by Joseph Heller
"The Dog Stars," by Peter Heller
"Hoot," by Carl Hiaasen
"Pontoon" by Garrison Keillor
"Same Difference," by Derek Kirk Kim
"Enchanted," by Alethea Kontis
"Miss Darcy Falls in Love," by Sharon Lathan
"Bobcat and Other Stories," by Rebecca Lee
"Young Men and Fire," by Norman Maclean
"Tales of the City," by Armistead Maupin
"Waiting to Exhale," by Terry McMillan
"Sunrise Over Fallujah," by Walter Dean Myers
"Bridge to Terabithia," by Katherine Paterson
"The Botany of Desire," by Michael Pollan
"Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children," by Ransom Riggs
"When I was Puerto Rican: A Memoir," by Esmerelda Santiago (English, and Spanish editions)
"Where'd You Go, Bernadette," by Maria Semple (also in large print format)
"Wild," by Cheryl Strayed
"Presumed Innocent," by Scott Turow
"Code Name Verity," by Elizabeth Wein
"This Boy's Life," by Tobias Wolff
"100 Best-Loved Poems," edited by Philip Smith.
The books to be given away were chosen by a panel of booksellers and librarians. Two Minnesota authors--Kate DiCamillo and Leif Enger--had books chosen the first year. Last year, Minnesota was passed over, but Wisconsin writer Michael Perry made the list.
World Book Night is a mostly volunteer effort to spread books and reading across the country. Every year, volunteers give away 500,000 books at random. To learn more, go to www.us.worldbooknight.org
Hint: It helps to have a prop. Last year, I brought my puppy and my mom. This year, Lucie Amundsen brought her son and her chicken purse.
Yesterday was the second World Book Night USA, a celebration of reading during which 25,000 volunteers hand out 500,000 copies of special editions of 30 different books. Each volunteer chooses one title and hands out 20 copies. For me, yesterday afternoon, it took hours. Unlike last year, my mother was busy and couldn't go with me. And my puppy had grown from a tiny ball of soft black fur into a squirrel-chasing handful, so this time I set out alone.
Down at Como Lake, I gave away two copies of Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time," one to a guy in a cowboy hat who said, with delight, "I'll even give it to someone else when I'm done!"
But I also got a lot of refusals. I wasn't sure if it was my patter--I decided that opening the conversation by saying, "Would you like a free book?" was the wrong way to go about things, because it was too easy for people to simply say "No," and keep walking---or if it was the stiff breeze coming off the lake ice.
So I headed over to Conny's Creamy Cone, the little ice-cream stand on the corner of Dale and Maryland. I talked to three high school kids, one of whom said, "Sure, I'll give it a try," which--peer pressure, maybe--led the other two to say yes as well.
Score! Five down, 15 to go.
At Lake Phalen on St. Paul's East Side, I gave one to a guy who was fishing--he had fish guts on his hands, and apologetically asked if I would mind putting the book in his backpack--and to a woman who was watching the raft of loons who were floating out near the ice. A blue-eyed, silver-haired man grinned when I offered him a book. "I read about this on the computer!" he said with excitement, and in return for the book, he told me a joke. ("Where do you bring your dog if he loses his tail? To the re-tail store!")
I returned to Como for the last five books, where a teenage girl who prefers science fiction accepted Egan's book of narrative nonfiction, and where two women jokingly offered to swap their dog for a book.
I am mystified by people who decline the book--some might have thought I was trying to sell them something, and a few simply said they weren't readers. But those who listened to my whole spiel (which got better as the afternoon went on) and still declined?
Here are a few other reports from yesterday's World Book Night in MInnesota:
At Edina High School, Emma Westbrook handed out copies of "Looking for Alaska," by her favorite writer,John Green. This was Edina's first participation in World Book Night.
Up in Duluth, Lucie Amundsen and her son, Milo, give this report:
When approaching strangers on World Book Night, there’s a disquieting for a few seconds just before people get it. You’re not selling anything, you’re not panhandling, it’s just a free paperback – no strings attached. To help lighten this awkward moment, I brought two things: my nine-year-old son Milo and my rubber chicken purse. “This is the best!” he said, “You never let me talk to strangers!”
We broke into our box of Michael Perry’s “Population 485” with an acquaintance up the street. I know she’s single, has a passel of small children and probably hasn’t thought about reading for her own pleasure in a long while. She accepted the book gracefully and listened to us stumble over our spiel.
Then we braced ourselves for prime time and hit the Kenwood Laundromat. There we found a middle-aged man sitting at a table poking at his mini iPad. “We’re out with World Book Night celebrating Shakespeare’s birthday…” was a great icebreaker, and so was painting the picture of an army of volunteers giving away half a million books in one evening.
As awkward as approaching strangers can be, it’s equally sweet to watch an adult just trying to get through what’s got to be done, take the volume, work it with his hands and smile. “What an awesome thing. Thank you,” he said not taking his eyes off of it. When we left, he was reading page one.
Similar scenes played out with the staff of Papa Murphy’s, the liquor store and with a woman sweeping up from a haircut at Great Clips. Giving free paperbacks to people pursuing the book section at Saver’s felt almost like cheating. We did it anyway.
A woman in the parking lot rebuffed us, as did the guys working at Disc-Go-Round, but meeting the folks stranded in a broken down minivan proved to be an evening highlight. While talking about their car woes, the woman in the passenger’s seat said that getting the book was the best part of her day. The man with her said he really liked my chicken purse.
Our last book, Milo tucked into the Little Free Library on Skyline Parkway where we often walk. I’m not sure if it qualifies as giving the book away, but we liked the idea of someone coming upon it and feeling like it was a lucky day.
Also up in Duluth, Claire Kirch handed out 20 copies of Michael Perry's "Population 485" at two local bars. The books went fast, she reports: She told people that Perry was the "David Sedaris of northern Wisconsin," and the books went like hotcakes.
Twin Cities writer Kate St. Vincent Vogl also gave away "Looking for Alaska." Here's her report:
No better place to go with a hand out than back stage at a high school theater, especially if you've got the YA blockbuster "Looking for Alaska." At my daughter's school, I found a small group in the cramped space stage right. They were tapping out a sequence for the upcoming musical, waiting for their time on stage.
"I'm here for World Book Night," I said. "I've got John Green."
One girl started explaining to another: "You know the Vlog brothers, don't you? This is one of them."
The tall one by the cabinet hung towards the back. "I don't have any money," he said.
"Oh, they're free. Free books!"
They all snapped them up then. I couldn't get them out of the box fast enough. In two minutes I'd given away two thirds of my box of books.
Over in the cafeteria, I found another clump of students.
"I don't really read," one of the guys said.
"I'd take one, but I should leave it for someone who'd really appreciate it," said another.
So I circled back to the theater and waited for the practice to finish. It didn't take long. Anyone who thinks kids aren't reading these days just doesn't know where to find them. But they're there: The ones hungry for story are the ones telling it any way they can.
And meanwhile, in Jerusalem.... former Minnesotan Michael Dickel files this report:
One cafe I frequent in Jerusalem, as much bakery as coffee shop, is called simply Hafukh (ha-FOOKH). This means, literally, "upside down," which is the idiom for latte or cappuccino, depending on who translates the menu.
This morning when I stopped in for my usual two lattes (or cappuccinos) to go, the barista showed me a collection of Hebrew poems left by another patron for World Book Night. He was rather pleased that the patron appreciated them so much as to leave a book.
Feeling appreciative myself of a barista who knows my order and makes upside down coffee according to the legend of its idiomatic name--pouring the coffee into the foamed milk--I took two English poetry anthologies in this afternoon. I happen to be in both and to have co-edited one, but hey, that's why I had extra copies around.
My morning barista was off, but his afternoon replacement took the books. With a puzzled look, he assured me that he would see that the morning man received them. I guess that I'll find out tomorrow.
Here's to reading.
And it's not over yet! Though World Book Night is, technically just one day (or night), local writer Reese Hendricks reports that a scheduling conflict prevented her and an illustrator friend from handing out books on Tuesday. So today they'll give away 50 copies of their own book to children at Clover Ridge Elementary School in Chaska.
"For the kids, every day should be World Book Day anyway!" she said.
Last year's World Book NIght was a hoot to be part of, a celebration of books, authors and reading, a chance to get great books into the hands of people who might not otherwise have them, a chance to meet random strangers and give them a gift.
The event began in the United Kingdom and Ireland and spread to Germany and the U.S. in 2012. This year, reports are that Germany is bowing out, but the U.S. is still going strong. The list of the 30 titles to be given away was released in November (and you can find it here), and this week e-mails are going out to applicants, letting them know if they've been chosen to be a volunteer book-giver.
I got my email yesterday. Whew! It was fun last year, going with my mother and my new puppy down to Como Lake and giving away copies of Kate DiCamillo's "Because of Winn-Dixie." I don't know yet which book I'm giving out this year, but I asked for Timothy Egan's "The Worst Hard Time," his prize-winning history of the Dust Bowl.
Last year, two Minnesota authors were represented among the give-away books: DiCamillo, and Leif Enger, and there was a big to-do that night at Magers & Quinn Bookstore in Uptown. This year, no Minnesota authors will have books given out, but Wisconsin will have two: Neil Gaiman and "Good Omens," and Michael Perry and "Population: 485."
World Book NIght is a day set aside to celebrate books, with a half-mllion copies of 30 different titles given away at random. Don't be surprised if a volunteer walks up to you that day and hands you a paperback book, no strings attached. Don't run! Don't say no! It's just a book, and a good one. The date is April 23, the time is no particular time at all, and the location is--random.
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