I took my box of specially marked copies of Ann Patchett's novel Bel Canto and walked along Caspar beach. A couple sunning themselves against a photographically well-placed log was startled to be interrupted by an old guy toting a Rick Steves daypack full of novels, but they adapted quickly, not only accepting a copy, but posing for a quick snapshot.
I felt really, really good having made that connection, so I approached a trio of souls down by the surf line, two nearby husbands on lawn chairs, and a guy shading his eyes and staring out to sea, waiting for his ship to come in, or his son to come in from surfing, one of those. They all got books. So did the young Belgian mother in the campground laundry, the older gentleman walking across a parking lot, the woman in the camp store and the guy on the deck of the store.
I interrupted one of those we're-camping-so-let's-have-a-couple-of-drinks parties to give out two copies. At Russian Gulch State Park I screeched to a halt and gave a bicyclist a copy; another to the woman in the toll booth, another to a mother with two young children – "Really – you're giving me this book? Really? Why?" – and I startled awake a camper dozing off in the front seat of his sedan. I think he was the happiest of all the recipients, and he let me take his photo, too.
So much for my short, personal experience of the first annual World Book Night USA. I had fun, felt good, and nobody punched me out for bothering them. I plan to do it again next year. I hope YOU'LL do it next year, too.
Reports from all over:
My friend Paul Takushi at the UC Davis bookstore said, "Our store had eight Givers, including myself. None of them were college students. I think the college crowd here was largely oblivious to the event. If it's not in the school paper, not on the Daily Show, or not for extra credit for one of their classes, they're clueless.
"One of our Givers was going to take the Spanish version of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz to Folsom Prison. Another was going to visit foster homes in Sacramento. Stuff like that makes me teary. I walked around campus and downtown Davis. Whenever I approached someone the first thing I said was, 'I'm not selling anything and I'm not going to ask you to sign something.' I told them about World Book Night, then offered them the free book. (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie). Everyone seemed pretty happy to get a book. Nothing strange or super-uplifting happened to me. Just made me feel good to spread the WBN gospel."
Other reports: At Hicklebee's "We had about 20 people sign up. One man works in local jail. He was distributing them there. A staff member & friend walked around downtown San Jose and gave out books to homeless people, people in wheelchairs, anyone who happened along. The giver said she'd happily pay money to get to do it again!"
At Laurel Bookstore in Oakland, "I had a number of people who came in over the last week or so to ask what this was all about and wanted to know in plenty of time for next year. And some others asked how their organization or shelter or program could benefit. We're keeping lists in anticipation."
One book giver wrote a thank you note to the SF State University bookstore: "Giving books to eager and appreciative readers felt rewarding and meaningful. Clearly, people who received the books were even more inspired to read, as they felt honored to get a free copy..."
Novelist Cris Cander wrote on his blog: "To give away twenty copies of Peace like a River by Leif Enger, I chose a shelter for homeless, throwaway and runaway teens. It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life... In the adjacent lunchroom, two dozen or so teenagers – many of them scarred, tattooed, broken-looking – talked and ate in small groups... the kids looked at me somewhat suspiciously. As I told them why I loved this incredible story of a young boy's journey across the frozen Badlands of the Dakotas in search of his fugitive older brother, it occurred to me that I might not be able to give away any books at all.
"Then one tall, thin boy raised his track-marked arm and said, 'I'd like a copy.' You would? I said, relieved. What's your name? 'Donny. I never had my own book before.' ... 'Me too. Can I have one?' 'And me.' They came one by one, and I pressed a brand-new copy into each of their hands. To a one, they thanked me with such sincerity I didn't think I could bear it."
Cander's report continues on his blog. I wasn't where he was, but yes, it really did feel that good.
What is World Book Night USA?
If you are in the UK or Ireland, and who knows, you might be...