I got out my Sharpies and some used foam core and made two posters. Dave helped me attach them to my little shopping cart. Wearing my official giver pin, we drove to South Berkeley.
We stopped at a laundromat on Sacramento just north of Ashby. We asked people inside if they were interested in receiving a free book. Many looked skeptical, wondering what our game was. I explained that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was the inspiring true story of Maya Angelou’s difficult childhood and one of my favorite books. The first young man I approached said he was already a reader and read books all the time, so he was not in need of encouragement; but he pointed out another man in the back of the laundromat who he was sure needed a nudge. Unfortunately, the man turned out not to read English, but smiled at my offer. I wished I’d had a Spanish language copy to distribute as well. We managed to give away a few copies, and one woman promised to start reading it right away while she was waiting for her laundry.
Then we stepped outside and wandered down the sidewalk maybe a hundred feet or so until we reached a small market where people were coming and going. We gave our spiel about World Book Night and how we were giving away free books to encourage reading. We asked if people knew who Maya Angelou is, and most had at least heard of her.
One woman had actually met Ms. Angelou and another had seen her speak at the Paramount some years ago. One woman was just eager to get something for free and said, “If it’s free, I’ll use it for toilet paper!” When I tried to explain that the idea was for her to read it, she laughed and told me she was just joking and that she’d read it.
We met a few people who really didn’t want a book and a few who had already read the book and agreed that it was great. One man said that he’d like to have the book but his eyes were getting so bad that he couldn’t read any more. Dave suggested that he have someone read it to him, and he said he’d give it to his wife, and maybe she’d read it to him. He happily put the book in his plastic grocery bag, got on his bike, and pedaled away. I hope he sees cars on the road better than words on the page…
It was definitely a positive experience. I hope that it continues to be an annual event. Even if only one of the 24 people read it and get out of it as much as I did, I would consider it a success. Of course I hope all the copies get read and those recipients pass it on to a friend or family member who will continue to pass it along. What if the 24 copies of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings get read by 72 people? Or more!
It felt good giving away brand new books to people who might otherwise not read them. Plus, I figure that, as a writer, I can’t just write words and hope they get read. I have to support reading any way I can. And if that means literally putting a book in someone’s hands, then that’s what I’ll do!
Bravo to the many book publishers, paper producers, booksellers, and authors (who waived their royalty rights for this give-away) for their contributions to this worthy project.
I’m already excited about doing it again next year.
For more info on World Book Night, go to www.worldbooknight.org.