Perhaps you've heard of World Book Night, a magical day last March when a million books were handed out across the United Kingdom and Ireland--books by Seamus Heaney, John Le Carre, Nigel Slater, Muriel Sparks. What a lovely thing, to be hurrying to work or the grocery store or sitting in the park minding the baby and to have a smiling volunteer suddenly hold out a free paperback book.
Now, World Book Night is spreading to the United States. On Monday, April 23, an estimated 50,000 volunteers will give away a million books, in nursing homes, in hospitals, in schools, in coffee shops and malls, on the street--wherever they see a likely person who looks as though they could use a good read.
What better way to start a Monday?
Thirty titles have been chosen for World Book Night, and 35,000 copies of each title will be printed in special "not-for-resale" paperback editions. The list is nicely varied: Sherman Alexie, Kate DiCamillo, Leif Enger. Buzz Bissinger--something for everyone.
Said DiCamillo, in a press release, 'It makes perfect sense to me that World Book Night will take place in the spring. Extending your hand to give someone a book, a story, is a gesture of hope and joy. It is a chance for all of us, givers and receivers, to break into blossom."
Anna Quindlen will serve as national chairperson. "What's better than a good book?" she said in a press release. "A whole box of them, and the opportunity to share them with new readers."
World Book Night is a nonprofit organization, and is supported by publishers, booksellers, and libraries. Last year's giveaway in the UK reportedly helped boost sales of several of the titles, despite fears from one horrified Scottish bookseller that the massive giveaway was misguided. (It's worth noting that the cost of the giveaway is being underwritten by publishers, printers and paper companies, and all 30 writers have waived their royalties, according to USA Today.)
If you're interested in volunteering to give away books in 2012, you have until Feb. 1 to sign up. Some folks who took part last year blogged about it--here's one from an English gent, who found it a little more difficult to give books away than he had thought. And here's one from an English woman, who had more success.
Here's the link to the U.S. site. (If you get the UK site, click on the American flag.)
And here's the list of 30,which includes several Minnesota writers. (Neil Gaiman, who we like to claim as ours, is on the British list.)
"The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," by Sherman Alexie.
"Wintergirls," by Laurie Halse Anderson
"I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings," by Maya Angelou
"Friday Night Lights," by H.G. Bissinger
"Kindred," by Octavia E. Butler
"Ender's Game," by Orson Scott Card
"Little Bee," by Chris Cleave
"The Hunger Games," by Suzanne Collins
"Blood Work," by Michael Connelly
"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao," by Junot Diaz, and the Spanish-language edition, "La Breve y Maravilllosa Vida de Oscar Wao."
"Because of Winn-Dixie," by Kate DiCamillo
"Zeitoun," by Dave Eggers
"Peace Like a River," by Leif Enger
"A Reliable Wife," by Robert Goolrick
"Q is for Quarry," by Sue Grafton
"The Kite Runner," by Khaled Hosseini
"A Prayer for Owen Meaney," by John Irving
"The Stand," by Stephen King
"The Poisonwood Bible," by Barbara Kingsolver
"The History of Love," by Nicole Krauss
"The Namesake," by Jhumpa Lahiri
"The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien
"Bel Canto," by Ann Patchett
"My Sister's Keeper," by Jodi Picoult
"Housekeeping," by Marilynne Robinson
"The Lovely Bones," by Alice Sebold
"The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot
"Just Kids," by Patti Smith
"The Glass Castle," by Jeannette Walls
"The Book Thief," by Markus Zusak.
Northern Lights, the delightful independent bookstore that was an anchor, for many years, at Canal Park up in Duluth, was the first I'd heard to complain about the problem: Customers browsing the shelves, leafing through books, choosing what they wanted--and then scampering home to order the books, cheaper, online.
"We're really a showroom now for books," said owner Anita Zager last December, as she announced that her store was closing after 17 years.
A year ago, the folks at Amazon might have shrugged, saying that's just capitalism at work. But this weekend, they're taking the gloves off.
In a press release sent out on Tuesday, the folks at Amazon have announced a new free price check app for smart phones which will, they say, ensure that "a deal really is a deal." And tomorrow, they'll give you 5 percent off, up to $5 per item (to a maximum of three items), if you'll use it. They're asking you to download the app, take your phone into a bricks-and-mortar store, scan the price information on something you are interested in buying, and then scamper home and buy it from them.
You'll get the bonus from Amazon on Saturday if you do this, but they're urging you to use the app year-round, even without the bonus, thus "allowing all Amazon customers to get the lowest prices." (And thus, of course, allowing Amazon to collect all kinds of sales data from all over the place, with no effort.)
It is interesting to note that Amazon's offer applies to electronics, toys, music, sporting goods, and DVDs. It does not apply to books.
It is also interesting to note that it is indie bookstores that are fighting this the loudest. It was, of course, through selling books at a high discount that Amazon first launched its empire.
Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, released a statement, saying that while they were more disappointed than shocked, they see this as "the latest in a series of steps to expand your market at the expense of cities and towns nationwide, stripping them of their unique character and the financial wherewithal to pay for essential needs like schools, fire and police departments, and libraries."
Bookstores, especially independent bookstores, have long objected to the advantages that Amazon has over them, including serving as both distributor and seller, which cuts their costs, and, especially, the fact that Amazon pays (and therefore charges) no sales tax in most states, including Minnesota.
So what'll it be, folks? Pay a little more to keep independent stores around? Or is all about the cheapest possible price? Which way will you be leaning, come Saturday?
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