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.


Loons on Lake Phalen.

Loons on Lake Phalen.


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:


An Edina student accepts a World Book Night book from Emma.

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!”


Milo Amundsen gets a sweet reward after an afternoon of giving books.

Milo Amundsen gets a sweet reward after an afternoon of giving books.


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.


Lucie Amundsen's chicken purse broke some ice on World Book Night.

Lucie Amundsen's chicken purse broke some ice on World Book Night.


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.


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