The first one was last year and I found out through my library work. The announcement was that anyone could come forward to be a ‘book giver’, giving reasons why they would like to be involved and explaining how they would give away the books. Each selected person would be sent twenty books from a selection of titles and on the day or night, give them away – preferably to strangers.
‘World Book Night is a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of people gift books within their communities to spread the joy and love of reading on April 23. In 2012 World Book Night will be celebrated in the UK, Ireland, Germany and USA.’ World Book Night Website
I signed up and was really looking forward to giving away Dissolution (fantastic book if you haven’t read it), my first choice of title. The World Book Night people keep in contact regularly and send the books to participating libraries and bookshops for collection by the giver. You have to take a copy of your email and collect the two large boxes of books in the weeks leading up to the event and fill in your item numbers in the grid on the inside of the back cover. This way as books get passed on there is a chance of tracking their journey.
So, one cold and miserable afternoon in Cambridgeshire I drove to the local hospital to approach patients with the gift of a book. I was regretting ever getting involved and swearing to myself that I’d never do it again. I hoped I would reach people who perhaps didn’t often read (and a number of bored people with time on their hands). But I didn’t want to go in.
I paid my parking fee, lugging a big bag of books with me and an elderly gentleman also approached to use the machine. ‘Want a book?’ I asked him, ‘I’m giving them away!’. One happy ‘customer’ went away clutching his book just as the next group of people arrived. I was giving them away hand over fist before I had time to think. I bottled it for the first ten minutes by standing by the machine thinking the car park was a reasonable fulfilment of my promise before plucking up the courage to go inside the hospital. It wasn’t until this point that I considered that I should have warned them that I was coming. Too late now! I went to the Sister in charge of the General Surgery Ward (didn’t seem like too serious an illness to start with, Wrong!) and explained my mission and asked for permission to approach her patients. She asked me to avoid a couple but otherwise ‘go for it’, with the rest, but she didn’t think they’d be too interested. She then gazed longingly at the book. ‘Want one’ I said. Five copies went to the nurses and then I started on the patients.
All my books were gone within fifteen minutes, mostly to nurses and visitors. I went away euphoric, swearing that I’d do this every year given half a chance. Once I’d established that I wasn’t selling a thing, everyone was happy to speak to me and most wanted a free book. They had nothing to lose, if they didn’t like it they could give it to someone else. If they did they could still give it to someone else. A win win situation and the authors and publishers must have made a mint by selling follow ups to these books.
If you get a chance to be involved with this initiative I’d encourage you to give it a go. It cost me a couple of hours of my time, if that, and some petrol. This year the library will support me with this so I probably won’t even have to pay back the time. The rush you get from giving something away is brilliant.
So, if you see a lady in a hospital car park on April 23 (my promise is to give to hospital visitors this year) approaching strangers, it could be me. Be nice and there could be a copy of Pride and Prejudice in it for you.