This is an essay by Francine Garson.
I don’t remember when my love affair with reading started. Did it happen during one of my weekly climbs to the children’s section on the third floor of my small town’s library? Or did it begin the first time I read an unforgettable story about friendship and a spider named Charlotte? I’ve never lived in 1930’s Alabama or in a futuristic society dominated by Big Brother. But the words of Harper Lee and George Orwell dropped me into these strange lands, while Ray Bradbury plunged me into the tragic nightmare of a world without books. I’ve grown from the little girl who read under the covers with a yellow flashlight to the adult who reads in line at the bank, at the kitchen table while a casserole bakes in the oven, and in bed before surrendering to sleep. But in addition to reading, one of my great pleasures is introducing others to the books that have transported me, challenged me, tickled me, depressed me, excited me, prodded me, and forced me to feel, think, and grow.
The Application Process
So when I heard about World Book Night’s plan to select literature-loving volunteers to distribute half a million books to light and non-readers across the United States on April 23, 2012, I wanted in! Typing worldbooknight.org into my browser, I learned that a committee of librarians and booksellers had developed a list of thirty books to be handed out in an event sponsored by publishers, paper companies, bookstores, and other book-related groups. The titles ranged from popular novels (The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini) to memoirs (Just Kidsby Patti Smith) to mystery (Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton) to young adult fiction (The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins). As a prospective “book giver,” I completed an online questionnaire in which I was asked to select three books that I’d like to give away, explain the reasons for my choices, and identify a local spot where I’d like to distribute them. The most difficult part was narrowing my picks down to three.
The Books I Chose to Give Away
So many of the books on the list had touched me and even, in some way, changed my view of the world and my place within it. But finally, after lots of thought about my own reading journeys and some regret for the “books not taken,” I chose The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. My reasons? Walls wrote a spellbinding tale of survival within an eccentric and dysfunctional family, O’Brien offered a firsthand look at the realities of war which changed my perceptions forever, and Zusak used “Death” as the narrator of a beautifully written testimony to the power of reading and friendship. Choosing the location for my book giveaway was easy too…the local shopping mall was accessible, heavily trafficked, and climate-controlled. With a few more clicks, my application was complete, and I settled in to wait for an email.
“Congratulations, you have been selected…” Yes!
So on April 23, 2012, I picked up my box of books from a nearby Barnes & Noble and headed to the mall. After pinning an ID badge to my shirt, I set up my stack of books and World Book Night sign at an empty kiosk. With a smile, a book in hand, and a brief explanation of my mission, I approached an elderly couple.
“For free?” they asked in unison. “What do we have to do?”
“Nothing,” was my response. “Just read.”
I gave them a book and watched as they walked away, heads bent over the title page.
This was fun!
But my next few attempts to give away Tim O’Brien’s literary masterpiece were met with “No thank you,” “I don’t read,” and “I don’t have time.”
Changing tactics, I targeted the salespeople manning some of the other kiosks.
“Sure, I love to read. Thank you,” a young man selling sunglasses said as he eagerly accepted a book.
And later, from a woman standing outside of an empty mattress shop, “This is a great project. Tell me about the book.”
From the kiosks, I moved on to shoppers roaming the mall. Carefully avoiding people on cell phones or those walking quickly, I honed in on friendly faces.
When I stopped two forty-something year-old women, I felt like I had found soul mates. After they scanned the list of other books being given away through World Book Night, we traded opinions on The Book Thief and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And we all loved Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods.
“Now read The Things They Carried,” I said as I offered them the books.
“Just give us one. Spread the wealth. We’ll share.”
Yeah, this was fun!
Within a little over an hour, I had given away my allotted twenty books. But although the goal of the event was to introduce light and non-readers to the joy of reading, it was quite obvious that most of my “takers” were already booklovers. Still, I hope my parting words to them might have a ripple effect.
“Enjoy this great book, and then pass it on.”
Learn more about World Book Night at worldbooknight.org.
Francine Garson’s work has appeared in All Things Girl, Faith, Hope and Fiction, Hackwriters, Humor Press, Sasee, Scarlett Rosebud, Still Crazy, Underwired, WorkLifeGroup.com, Writer Advice, and WritersType. Her flash fiction received a first place award from the League of American Pen Women in 2010. A former college counselor and law school administrator, Francine reads, writes, and attempts to play the piano in central New Jersey. Read more at francinegarson.com.