Saturday, December 17, 2011

World Book Night

April 23, 2012, will be World Book Night. Until a few years ago, I had never heard of such a thing. But now I'm glad I did. World Book Night (WBN) started in the UK, and now it has arrived on our shores. The people who run this event have selected an array of 30 books. You can see the list here. If you sign up and/or are accepted to be part of WBN, you will select one of those 30 books, based on the fact that you loved it. The fine people of WBN will then arrange for you to receive 20 copies of that book, and on the night of 4/23/12 or thereabouts, you will go somewhere to distribute those books. Why? Because you love the book and you would like others to read it. In fact, you feel passionate about others reading that book.
     As soon as I read about this, I immediately wanted to do it. The catch, at least for me, is that you have to distribute the books to light or non-readers--that is people who do not necessarily gravitate toward books. The idea is, then, that the book distributors become missionaries of a kind, spreading the love of reading. The problem? As part of the application process, you have to propose the place you would go to distribute these books to light or non-readers, and I am having a hard time thinking where that might be.  I mean, we hear all the time about how nobody reads anymore and blah, blah, blah, but where do we go to find a bunch of those people all in one place.
 As soon as I started to try to figure this out, I ran into a myriad of assumptions. I talked to a friend of mine who runs therapy groups for women in the Chicago jail, and I thought that might be a good place. Not necessarily, she told me. Plenty of those women want to read; it's just that they don't have access to decent books. So . . . that's not necessarily the kind of place that WBN is looking for. Then I thought of PADS, the local organization that provides overnight housing and meals. But why would I assume that just because a person is homeless, s/he is a light or non-reader. And even if s/he is, would s/he then want to have to shlep a book around the streets? The high school? People are always saying that young people don't read anymore, but how weird does it seem to go to a well-endowed high school and hand out books? A more likely place would probably be a school or neighborhood on the West or South sides of Chicago, but I need to feel safe going there. I guess that most of the places I tend to go are full of readers.

     I'll be very curious to watch how this event develops and how people choose where to go to distribute and whether it's only me who find the question so complicated.



Anonymous said...

I understand your thoughts about this endeavor.

While handing out books may have been a great idea about thirty years ago, (I'm going to make the ignorant assumption that those who think this is a good idea are older) it is a bad idea today for a number of reasons.

Law-abiding citizens (except in Phoenix if one is Hispanic) are rarely in jails. Those incarcerated or living in shelters do not settle into their cozy chair in the evening to read a book. Being at those "somewheres" at night, especially, is not a good idea for a young man who can run fast, much less for a delicately-built Susan Messer. I think your husband would agree and his possibly accompanying you won't make either of you safer. In addition, people in these unfortunate situations are often not healthy. We can take personal responsibility for the misfortunes of others personally by donating to charities we hope will distribute our donations honestly. I choose charities sponsored by musicians (this will probably be no surprise to you based on my comments on your blogs).

While my opinion may sound less than compassionate, it is unfortunately the truth. The fact is we must be responsible for ourselves first.

I would say that you must be a charitable person. I feel that in your writing; having read all you've written printed on the computer and comments in your blog, for example, about doing what you can to keep your neighborhood clean. Most walkers don't carry bags to pick up after the garbage leavers. I do now after reading your comment. BUT, we cannot save the world and we cannot put ourselves in danger trying.

How sad that the idea of distributing books to those who may not be able to afford them is unrealistic. But it is.

Happy Chanukah and a very healthy, happy 2012!

Susan Messer said...

Thanks so much for your thoughts. I don't think the primary purpose of WBN is to be charitable. I think it's more about trying to spread the joy of reading. It's not necessarily designed for people who can't afford books, though the ideas do get confused in my mind. But while we both had our backs turned, my husband applied, to hand out books to the guests at the homeless shelter where he organizes a dinner once a month. The reasons he gave for wanting to do so were quite wonderful. I'll let you know if his application is accepted.

Anonymous said...

A huge brave laud to Mr. Messer. That this is a place he is familiar with is hopefully safer and the joy in the giving cannot be ignored. I'm sure he will have no trouble passing out books. Whether they will be read is another story.

I'm with you about not understanding the idea. Joy of reading implies the ability to get books, a situation which this group seems to want to help but readers, light, heavy or otherwise probably prefer books of their own choice. Do people read books because they are free? I hope not.

As for spreading the joy of reading, I again refer to the first part of my second paragraph.

The political environment, crime situation and ads that make no sense create an aura of suspicion. That's sad too.

Susan Messer said...

Thanks again for your thoughts. I fear you see my questions as more negative than I intended. Or I didn't express myself well. If a person hands a book to another person and presents it with a passion and joy, the receiver may actually want to read the book, or at least decide to give it a try. And perhaps the book will draw him/her in, present a new kind of pleasurable experience. All the books on the list are worthy. There are a range of books, for many tastes. It seems to me to be a very openhearted effort, and I'm very curious to hear reports on the progress. I know you're just trying to think it through with me.

Jim Poznak said...

Actually, Susan gave me the idea to give the books to the homeless people who I meet at the church once each month when we feed them. They seem like decent people who have had a lot of bad luck. I hope I get to give them the books.

Susan Messer said...

True. And I hope it works out also. Will be very curious to see/learn.