Friday, May 4, 2012

World Book Night in Boulder

I was grateful to have been one of the 25,000 Americans who took part in the second annual World Book Night, handing out 500,000 books to perceived “light-to-non-readers.” My experience was wholly positive. I distributed books to ALLY Youth Services which operates out of the First Baptist Church on 13th and Pine. The youth center supplies food, clothing, showers and other essentials to homeless youths under 24 around Boulder and helps them get on their own two feet toward an independent future. They separated from another organization just a few months ago and are currently in the process of establishing a strong presence in Boulder.
For them, I chose The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie and also ended up bringing some copies of The Book Thief by Markus Zusak as well as The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (we had extra boxes sent and I thought a variety of reading levels would be advantageous considering the location), and I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. I thought it best to discuss the books first and then let them choose the title(s) that interested them the most.
Having previously lived through a semester of student teaching and worked as a substitute teacher for a year, I was a little nervous about interrupting the teenagers as they were enjoying their pizza and television to talk about books I thought they should read. There were flashbacks of glazed over eyes during what would begin as a solicitation for discussion but end up as a monologue because the dead air and unwelcome reception were too much for me to bear (I was young and foolish and chose to teach my favorite books, but my book love was deemed dorky rather than contagious and it did not carry over to the unenthusiastic high schoolers before me like it does in all the inspirational movies and it crushed me).
But the kids at the youth center were attentive and interested! And they asked if I had more copies than the two I was holding in my hand! And some of them even seemed curious about holding a book discussion group some time in the future! As someone who is quite passionate about reading, it was a good feeling to have possibly sparked that passion in someone else; it reminded me of why I went to school for education in the first place.
Other Boulderites had good things to say about their World Book Night distribution as well. Neighbors Nicole and Susi passed out 40 copies of The Glass Castle together to places such as CASA, the YMCAs in Boulder and Lafayette, the West Boulder Senior Center, and Project Yes. They mentioned during our Volunteer reception that it was purely coincidental that both Susi and Nicole signed up to be book givers, and even more so that they had chosen the same book. You can see more of their pictures, and stories from others around the country, on WBNUSA’s Facebook page.
Not all experiences were as rosy as those of myself and Nicole and Susi . In a blog post by Publishers Weekly, its author relayed her frustration that it took so long to give out 20 copies of O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, realizing (after someone pointed it out to her) that people mistook the war novels she was dispersing for religious literature. I would argue that the author is a little more impatient than I would have been in her shoes, as my approach to the idea of WBN distribution was more dialogue-based book evangelism.
Fellow bookseller Ashanti made her attempt to pass out Stephen King’s The Stand at several locations around Longmont and said her mission took all of Monday evening as well as Tuesday morning. “I asked people if they would like a book and many of them looked at me like I had just asked if I could punch their grandma in the face. It was a really disturbing experience for me,” she shared.
I enjoyed my experience though. And I loved the enthusiasm of the 22 volunteers and their friends who chose BBS as their pickup location at our reception on April 16th. I’m certain their passion translated into a successful evening for them as well, if they showed even a tenth of their excitement as they relayed their plans to the group that evening (another big “Thank you!” to Alfalfa’s, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Avery Brewing Company, and West End Wine Shop, who generously donated the food and beverages we enjoyed). Judging by the stories circulated from other stores and volunteers all over the country, I trust we can look forward to another successful (bigger and better?) World Book Night next year.
And now I leave you with this video of the ReadMob in St. Louis: