I’m four months early, but sometimes there’s news you just can’t keep under your hat. (After all, who wants hat-hair?)
World Book Night is an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books. To be held in the U.S. as well as the U.K. and Ireland on April 23, 2012. It will see tens of thousands of people go out into their communities to spread the joy and love of reading by giving out free World Book Night paperbacks.
Someone, pinch me, I’ve slipped into a dreamy coma.
I first heard about World Book Night when the inimitable, unforgettable Carl Lennertz announced to us, his students at the Denver Publishing Institute (where he oversaw our marketing week this past July), that he would be leaving his much-loved HarperCollins in order to take the lead as Executive Director of the U.S. branch of this innovative celebration of books. If anyone can put a great face on this movement’s inaugural year in America, it’s the guy who loves to blast AC/DC and considers donning business attire only in the most needlingly mandatory situations. With self-publishing trends casting a scornful eye on the Big Six publishing houses (whom they imagine as sitting in some ivory tower in crisp suits beneath sets of arched eyebrows and downturned noses), it’s nice to be reminded in the form of Lennertz and World Book Night itself that, no, prominence doesn’t always mean pretension. Rather, this power is, indisputably, being used for good.
Additionally, April 23 is UNESCO’s World Book Day, chosen due to the anniversary of Cervantes’ death, as well as Shakespeare’s birth and death.
Seriously, are you charmed yet?
The goal is to get 50,000 people to sign on as book-giver-outers (totaling 1,000,000 free books in all), be it on the street, in a hospital, or any communal gathering place. Incidentally, haven’t any of you ever played out such a scenario in your if-I-won-the-lottery or your if-I-was-Haley-Joel-Osment-in-the-movie-Pay-it-Forward daydreams? It’s so damn romantic, the thought of such charity and anonymity working hand-in-hand to help us make a difference when we might otherwise not know how (besides ditching Amazon for independent retailers). And the timing really couldn’t be better: this December, as with all other Decembers, we see sharp upswings in Salvation Army donations, soup kitchen employees, and food drive coordination. But doesn’t need last all year round? And isn’t an exposure to literature a need in itself – one that people might not even know they have? April, then, is a perfect time for World Book Night. What else is going on that month besides a whole lot of rain? It’s the perfect pick-me-up before summer’s onslaught of Beach Reads.
The 30 selections for 2012’s Book Night really couldn’t be better. In it, I see two of my top 10 favorite books of all time (The Things They Carried and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao), and I see the favorites of my family and friends, too. (Peace Like a River happens to be my Aunt Sue’s favorite, and my sister is a massive John Irving fan. And, whether they liked it or not, whose 2002 self didn’t read The Lovely Bones out of insatiable curiosity?) I also spotted more than one book that DBC|Reads has reviewed in our four-month lifespan. The selections shine as the product of true collaboration; isn’t it obvious that the same committee member wouldn’t have nominated Michael Connelly, Dave Eggers, Rebecca Skloot, and Maya Angelou? Not that that’s an impossibility, but it’s made clear by their outlined selection process that the list is meant to appeal to readers of just about every demographic. In a decade where publishers are working hard to maintain a minimum number of readers in the consumer pool, World Book Night is looking to expand it. And add a diving board.
Get excited, everyone. We’re about to see something truly collaborative and spectacular occur at the intersection of the written word and the spoken exchange, the meeting of abstract worlds with this singularly concrete one. Will you be the one to give out these books? Will you be the stranger who receives one of them?
Let’s make it work. Let’s beat the drum for it. Let’s take a day to occupy the streets not in protest, but in celebration of something. In the case of World Book Night, it’ll be the incontestably positive results that these April 23 collisions of well-meaning strangers will have: charity, intrigue, enthusiasm, and the sense that the world is at once all the bigger and smaller for the presence of these books in our lives.