Building on last year's success in Great Britain, volunteers in Minnesota and across the U.S. will offer gift of reading by handing out books at random and for free for World Book Night.
Amy Glaser will do it at the Hastings Y, Carrie Obry at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Amtrak station. And Kathy Born will stake out Sioux Trail Elementary School in Burnsville, armed with 20 copies of Kate DiCamillo's "Because of Winn-Dixie."
The three Twin Cities women are among more than 600 Minnesotans who will give away books as part of World Book Night, a celebration of reading that began last year in Great Britain and has since spread to the United States and Germany.
On Monday, a half-million copies of 30 titles -- including several by Minnesota authors -- will be handed out at random across the country. Twenty-five thousand volunteers will give away 20 books each on buses and trains, in parks, coffee shops, homeless shelters, schools, nursing homes and taverns -- wherever they spot people who look as though they could use a good read.
"It's a beautiful, foolish idea," said Aitkin, Minn., author Leif Enger, whose novel "Peace Like a River" is among those being given away. "I'm incredibly honored that they chose my book."
The nonprofit event is almost entirely dependent on volunteers and good will; Enger and DiCamillo, like all 30 of the authors, have waived royalties, and the costs of printing the special soft-cover editions were underwritten by publishers, printers and paper companies.
"This has restored my faith in America," said Carl Lennertz, who quit his job as a marketing executive for Harper Collins to take on the mammoth task of coordinating the giveaway. "This country's in rough shape, but people want to reach out and provide a free book and change a life in some way."
A huge success in Britain
The first World Book Night took place last year in the United Kingdom and Ireland. One million books were handed out, although some volunteers had trouble getting people to take them. ("Some looked as if I was holding a stick of dynamite when I proffered one of the copies," wrote blogger Rob Mansfield, who was giving away Nigel Slater's memoir, "Toast.")
British booksellers and publishers were initially wary, concerned that giving books away would lessen their value at a time when sales were already slumping. But the reverse proved true, with sales getting a nice bump, especially for the World Book Night titles. ("Toast" saw a spike of more than 350 percent over the next year. )
When the plan migrated across the Atlantic, there was "not a peep" of opposition, Lennertz said. "The bookstores here completely embraced it -- and not for sales reasons," he said. "It's a good local deed."
Chains and independent bookstores, along with public libraries, serve as hubs where volunteers can collect their books. Many are hosting pre-World Book Night parties so that givers can meet.
The 25,000 volunteers applied online through a five-step process, which included writing a short essay as to why they wanted to do this, and where.
"In my top-five favorite applications, one was in your state," Lennertz said. "A cabbie in Duluth is taking books around for the day on his rounds. My second-favorite is a surfer dude in Santa Cruz who's going to paddle out with 20 books in Ziploc bags and give them to other surfers.
"We have a prison chaplain going into Indianapolis prisons with books. Wichita, Kan., cops are taking books around on their beat in their cars.
"And then there are people going to food shelves and women's shelters and underprivileged schools. These people who applied to be book givers are the most generous souls I've met."
Books will be given away in all 50 states, in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, and on four military bases overseas.
Across the state -- from Worthington to Detroit Lakes, from Winona to the Iron Range, and all over the Twin Cities -- more than 12,000 books will be given out. Four Minnesota writers are represented -- Enger and DiCamillo, who live here, and Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried") and Buzz Bissinger ("Friday Night Lights"), who once did.
Minnesota also will host one of two national World Book Night events on Monday, when DiCamillo and Enger will be in conversation at Magers & Quinn Bookstore in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood.
DiCamillo said her publicists at Candlewick were "out of their minds with joy" when they called to tell her that "Because of Winn-Dixie" had been chosen. "And I hung up the phone, and I thought, 'This is such an incredible thing,'" DiCamillo said. "It seemed like such a huge gift, you know, to be a part of it, and with so many books on the list that I love and admire."
Lennertz worked with a panel of 15 booksellers and librarians to winnow down hundreds of titles to the final 30, which also includes "The Hunger Games," "Bel Canto," and "A Prayer for Owen Meany." "It sure is a wide and beautiful net, isn't it?" DiCamillo said.
Volunteer Kathy Born of Eagan said the chance to give "Winn-Dixie" to children was irresistible. "I believe so strongly in encouraging reading, how could I have passed this up?" she said. "And I feel so strongly also about supporting local authors, and about the greatness of Kate. It's a win-win-win-win-win situation."
Carrie Obry, executive director of the Midwest Booksellers Association in Minneapolis, will give away Robert Goolrick's novel, "A Reliable Wife." The opening scene takes place at a train station, so Obry will give copies to people waiting to catch a train.
And Amy Glaser will pick up "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri at Chapter 2 Books in Hudson, Wis., and haul them to the Hastings Y, where she studies yoga.
"Being that yoga has its foundations in India, there's a nice connection with the book," she said. "When I see people on the bikes or elliptical and listening to music, I'll say, 'Why not spend your time reading?'"
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302