The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Happy World Book Night!

Image courtesy of World Book Night

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, UNESCO’s World Book Day is geared toward “helping children to explore the pleasure of books,” as the celebration’s tagline states. But what about adults? Shouldn’t fully grown members of society be encouraged to pick up a book as well? That was British publisher Jamie Byng’s thinking when he launched World Book Night in the U.K. last year. In 2011, one million books were given away---half to prisons, hospitals, and care facilities---by book lovers in the community, termed “givers.” This year, the program has crossed the Atlantic, and is taking place across the United States for the first time today.

In hundreds of communities throughout the country, givers will be handing out 500,000 free books throughout the day (“Night” is a loose term) at their choice of location, which range from hospitals, food pantries, and shelters to shopping malls, subway stations, and coffee shops. Givers could request one of 30 titles, two of which are Big Read selections: The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson. Books were then shipped out to bookstores and libraries, who functioned as intermediaries, and picked up by givers in preparation for today’s mass distribution.

“We have 25,000 fanatic, wonderful, eager, anxious givers who want to go out and share a book,” said Carl Lennertz, a longtime publishing executive who is now executive director of World Book Night U.S. “People on planes and buses and subways have all said, ‘You know, I’m sitting with a book, and ten other people aren’t. Wouldn’t it be great to give them one?’”

The main goal of the event is to get books into the hands of the light or non-reader, as well as those who can’t normally afford a book on their own. However, Lennertz is quick to note that sharing is very different from preaching. “I never use the ‘L’ word, ‘literacy,’” he said. Though he says books have changed his own life, World Book Night shies away from the message that books are transformational, empowering, or medicinal. “It’s just reading and sharing and giving,” said Lennertz, an idea that’s underscored by the person-to-person, grassroots nature of the event.

To arrive at the 30 titles, Lennertz and his (small) team of volunteers weeded through dozens of book lists, focusing on contemporary novels with living authors. Books that were featured on three or more lists made the first cut. The group was whittled down to 30 titles, which were then printed as special World Book Night editions using donated funds. The special editions ensure the books cannot be returned or returned; they also “add to the wow factor,” as Lennertz said. “The recipient of the book knows that they’re getting something special.”

After finishing your copy, Lennertz and his team hopes you'll pass it on. As the inside jacket of each World Book Night U.S. edition states, "There are few gifts more precious than sharing the love of a good story with someone else." Truer words were never printed.

To follow the event’s progress throughout the day, check in with World Book Night U.S. on Facebook, or on Twitter @wbnamerica.

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