By Lisa Newman
“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives, power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change, truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.” ~ Salman Rushdie
This is the power that Jeannette Walls gained when she wrote The Glass Castle. In publishing her memoir, and through the commitment and hard work she put into her book tours, Walls encouraged her readers to do the same: retell, laugh, cry it out, think new thoughts and change. This was why I chose The Glass Castle to give on World Book Night 2012.
But I wasn’t alone that day last year in my book giving endeavors. As I wandered through my neighborhood drugstore and grocery store with twenty books in my bag, there were over 25,000 other book givers all across the United States giving away their chosen titles in their communities. Through the generous donation of paper, printing, author royalties, and shipping, a half million books were given away to light or non-readers last April 23, 2012.
As a bookseller at Lemuria, I was also lucky enough to organize our store as a pick-up location. In the Jackson area, World Book Night givers handed out about 1,200 books in coffee shops, the YMCA, transportation hubs, hospitals, parks, schools, and even on buses. One book giver describes her experience:
“I never expected that I’d describe the twenty minutes spent in the Jackson Amtrak Station waiting area last April as ‘transcendent.’ However, that’s the best word I know to explain my experience of approaching total strangers with a gift in hand. Following the recipients’ initial caution at my approach, then disbelief, came my own gift as I slipped the book into the recipients’ hands: the opportunity to share my love of Anne Patchett’s Bel Canto. For a brief moment, I wasn’t speaking to a stranger, but the best of friends.”
Beyond the efforts of individual givers in the Jackson area, 1 Campus 1 Community of Millsaps College, an organization that seeks to share resources and respond to needs both inside and outside the Millsaps gates, applied to give as a group to off-campus community groups with whom they have worked. Over 300 books were given to Life Skills classes, PTA parents at Boyd Elementary and GED class participants.
Looking back to last year, I recall that before I knew it I had only two books left in my bag and I decided to venture across the street to a fast food place. I shared how much I loved The Glass Castle and then a young woman on break asked me to sit down with her. She also convinced me that I was thirsty and a little bit hungry after my afternoon adventure. Over apple pie she asked me why I loved reading so much. Ironically, while we talked I glanced over at a fake bookshelf used as decoration with books cut right in half with just their spines for show. Minutes flew by as we shared our stories of real books and real life.
I can’t wait to meet this year’s class of World Book Night givers. My chosen title is Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith, a novel about a young woman who finds love and treasures in the most unlikely places – not so unlike the transformational act of sharing a book, and finding unexpected blessings. If you had twenty books in your bag to give away what would they be?
World Book Night U.S. is a celebration of books and reading held on April 23, when 25,000 passionate volunteers across America will give a total of a half million books within their communities to those who don’t regularly read. In 2012, World Book Night was celebrated in the U.S., the UK, Ireland, and Germany and saw over 80,000 people give more than 2.5 million books.