Leif Enger ran into trouble when he and his wife, Robin, split up to hand out copies of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" on World Book Night. Robin had no problem at all getting rid of her stack of books, but people on the streets of Aitkin eyed Leif suspiciously. (Things went better when Robin rejoined him.) They distributed the last of their 20 books, Enger said, at a park where weary moms watched toddlers play. The moms were as happy to get a book, he said, as they were to talk to another adult.
Kate DiCamillo had similar difficulties, approaching people at sidewalk tables along Grand Avenue in St. Paul. Some just said, No. One man said, Yeah, World Book Night, I've heard of that. What do you have?
She had Buzz Bissinger's "Friday Night Lights." No thanks, the guy said. I've already read that. What else do you have? Do you have Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried'?
Um, I have "Friday Night Lights," Kate said. (That's how World Book Night works. There were 30 titles given away across the country, but each volunteer got 20 copies of a single title to distribute at random.)
DiCamillo's "Because of Winn-Dixie," and Enger's "Peace Like a River" were among those titles. The authors met up at Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis on Monday night to talk about books, writing, and World Book Night to a crowd of about 100 people celebrating the giveaways. Some in the crowd talked about their own experiences distributing books. Earlier in the day, DiCamillo autographed free copies of "Winn-Dixie" at Common Good Books in St. Paul, for schoolchildren.
Across the country, a half-million books were given out by some 20,000 volunteers. World Book Night began last year in the UK and Ireland, and this year spread to the US and Germany. Social media played a big role, with volunteers blogging, tweeting, Storifying, Pinteresting (is that a word?), and Facebooking (is that?) throughout the day.
Some local reports from the World Book Night Minnesota Facebook page:
Lisa Braun Dubbels: All of my copies of I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS have been handed out at The Bridge for Youth, Simpson Church shelter, and the COOL Youth program at Calvary Church.
Dawn Frederick: All 20 copies + an additional 9 copies have been passed out at Rondo Public Library. A little music by my friend, Chris K, as well as my friends Christine and Dan helped pass out treats to the children during the storytime portion of our event. Our book was Because of Winn-Dixie - and the children (many who are not from the US) liked it lots. :)
Teresa Petersen: All 20 copies of A Prayer for Owen Meany have been distributed at the ice rinks and soccer fields of the National Sports Center!
Props came in handy: Some people made signs, some people brought their children, some (such as me) brought a puppy. My 12-week-old pup, Rosie, and I handed out DiCamillo's "Because of Winn-Dixie" at Como Lake, staking out people with dogs and/or children (because, of course, the book is about a child and a dog). (I also brought my mom. Nobody can look suspicious when they are with a sweet puppy and a smiling white-haired woman.)
It worked well, approaching people and asking if our dogs could meet--a great ice-breaker. And then, as the dogs sniffed each other and the exuberant Rosie jumped on the other dog's head, I offered the dogwalker a book, working the word "free" in as quickly as possible.
Only one person said no, and she had a good reason.
"We already have this book," said a woman who was walking a big, calm white poodle. "In two languages." (English and Spanish.) And she handed it back. But everyone else said yes--the man walking with his two sons, who said he read about World Book Night in the newspaper (and we can only hope it was the Star Tribune); the woman with the black Scottie who had already read the book but said she'd give it to her daughter, a teacher; the swift-walking man who said he used to work at a Winn-Dixie in Alabama.
A woman walking two Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers (picture golden retrievers, but smaller and sleeker) took the book and then said, quite happily, "Oh! She's a Winnie!" Her smaller retriever wasn't named for Winn-Dixie but the woman liked the connection.
And a woman in a gorgeous purple headscarf, pushing a stroller with two children, said, "Oh, she's a great writer. I've always wanted to read this book." (She had already read DiCamillo's "The Tale of Despereaux.")
One of my last books went to another woman pushing a stroller. As she walked off, she leaned over her baby and said, "You'll get to read this yourself some day!"
You can find more stories and photos on the World Book Night Facebook page or on Twitter under the hashtag #wbnamerica.Perhaps the most spectacular report was from St. Louis, where booksellers organized a "read mob" under the arch. Cool video here.
And here are a few blogs from volunteers who gave books away: