I'd been looking forward to Monday for months--World Book Night, the night (or day) when thousands of volunteers hand out great books, for free, to people at random on the street. It's a day of serendipity and goodwill--will you happen upon a giver, or will you not?
Back in December, or maybe January, I signed up to be a giver. Of the 30 worthy titles being distributed, I chose to give away Kate DiCamillo's "Because of Winn-Dixie." (She lives in Minnesota. The book is about a dog. Need I say more?)
World Book Night began last year in the UK and Ireland and spread to the U.S. and Germany this year. Word is that more countries will be involved next year. A committee of librarians and booksellers came up with a list of 30 titles to give out, authors waived their royalties, publishers and printers donated time and materials, 20,000 people signed up to hand out 500,000 books.
But. There's just one obstacle: People's natural suspicion of anything free.
I know that when I'm walking on the Nicollet Mall on a summertime lunch hour and vendors are handing out sample boxes of cereal or yogurt bars or tiny tubs of Nutella, I wave them off and keep walking. I don't want their junk, and I know what they really want is to suck me in as a customer.
And books? Aren't people who give books out usually proselytizing some fringe religion? I knew from reading the blogs of Brits who handed out books last year that a lot of people were unfamiliar with World Book Night and so refused the book, assuming there was some sort of catch. But there is no catch! Here's a good book! Take it and read it!
Still, I needed a prop. Something to make me beguiling, innocent and irresistible. I needed a puppy!
But I don't have a puppy! I only have a wolverine! She would have to do. I slid her fetching little harness over her fetching little wolverine head and we went down to the lake with our box of 20 books.
Como Lake seemed a great place to give away books--lots of people, lots of children, lots of dog-walkers. My plan was to stake out dog-walkers and people with kids, and it worked rather brilliantly. First step: Ask if my puppy can meet their dog.
And then, as Rosie pummeled them, I said, "Would you like a free book? It's World Book Night," and by then we were friends and fellow dog-lovers and trust had been earned, and they took the book and usually said, "I saw the movie!" or, "She's a great writer," or, "I've always wanted to read this book."
Only one person turned me down, and that was because she already had the book--in two languages. (English and Spanish.)
We got rid of 20 books in less than 40 minutes. With all the jumping and chatting, that's a pretty good clip, I think. One book every two minutes.
For added credibility/endearingness/innocence, I brought along my mother, who had a great time. She sat on a picnic bench and handed me fresh books from the box, and also took pictures. She told me later that if I ever do anything like that again, please let her know. (I'm figuring, yeah! World Book Night 2013!)
And then, as a bonus, that evening Kate DiCamillo and another Minnesota author, Leif Enger, were in conversation at a bookstore in Minneapolis, talking about writing and books and World Book Night and their own adventures giving books away that day. (For the record, neither brought a puppy and both had some difficulties.)
Lucky me, with my great job I was asked to moderate the conversation. This photo of the three of us became "Picture of the Day" in the Publishers Weekly daily e-mail report.
If you haven't read "Winn-Dixie," or if you haven't read Enger's book, "Peace Like a River" (another World Book Night title), you have much to look forward to. You might not have gotten a copy free on Monday (or maybe you were very lucky and you did). But these books are so good they're well worth paying for.