Tuesday, May 8, 2012

World Book Night 2012: A Raging Success

April 23rd is the day Shakespeare was born, and the day he died.  Cervantes also died on April 23rd, and UNESCO marks it as World Book Day.  This year, volunteers in the UK, Ireland, the US, and Germany spent the day giving books away.  I don't know how others fared, but Becky and I had a hell of a time.

In the United States, 53% of males and 39% of females are re-incarcerated after they're released from prison.  The recidivism rate for inmates who read in prison drops to 20% (couple that with a GED, and only 4-5% of inmates return, but our fucked up prison system is a post for another time).  So Becky decided to drop a box of Jeannette Walls' The Glass Castle at a women's detention center in downtown Miami.  

It was all razor wire and defeat, smaller and dingier than it looks from the highway (you drive past it all the time on I-95), but that's no reason not to deliver books with a smile.

We gave the books to Counselor Dixon, pictured here fully embarrassed at having her picture taken.

This visit led to Books & Books giving more books to Miami prisons (well, to Becky giving more books in Books & Books' name).  Since World Book Night, she's gotten several calls from people at other correctional facilities.  "You're the lady who gives books away, right?" they ask.  It's a nice rep to have.

Book tits?
For the second part of the giveaway, Becky and I decided to lay free copies of Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Dave EggersZeitoun on an unsuspecting public.  Coconut Grove is no South Beach, but it's a fairly popular destination for tourists and residents.  The Grove sees a lot of foot traffic on a Monday, and plenty of cars drive past Cocowalk, a kind of open-air mall that's at the heart of it all.  The point of World Book Night is to reach light and non-readers, the idea being that everyone is waiting for the right book to make the experience joyful rather than the chore it may have been in school.  Well, we found plenty of non-readers.  People turning us down got old quickly.

"This is going to be so awesome - wheeeeee!"
            "Snurf.  Snurf."                                                   "Grrr..."
"Take the fucking book, asshole!"

Eventually we realized people didn't respond well to, "Would you like a free book to celebrate World Book Night?"  Something happened when our voices hit the air which made them hear, "Please join our freaky, possibly religious cult.  Here's a big thick book about the apocalypse or Jesus or something." 

We changed our tune to "Free New York Times Bestseller" and vaulted over the solid fuck off wall and into the land where about half the passers-by took us up on the offer of a free book.

"That one's about the rapture a dude who stays behind to help his neighbors after hurricane Katrina and ends up in some serious shit.  This one's about Jesus or something a woman whose DNA made a bunch of scientists rich with medical advances but whose family couldn't even afford health insurance."

About half the folks we gave books to were light readers; the others were way too psyched to be anything but avid readers (a few even talked about how much they love Books & Books).  I think the guy pictured here is the only actual non-reader who took a book.  

All he cared about was where he could buy a six-pack.

We got people in cars passing by, we chased folks down while they waited at the crosswalk, we cornered shoppers carrying bags from one store to the next (FYI, Victoria's Secret shoppers hate books), and after about an hour we'd given both boxes away.  We drove home on a literary high, convinced we'd done something to further the cause of reading in America. 

I had so much fun, I'm already working on next year's pitch.  


  1. Great post about something great. What a braw idea to get them to the dtention centers and prisons {can't wait for that post BTW}. A great idea and a great thing to do. I know a few non-readers and they're not quite right in the head to miss out on someone telling them a story or sharing an idea.

    and looking at that pic - I'd take the f***ing book!

    Well done guys!

    as you yanks say {way too often}.....


  2. Thanks, Al! A curmudgeonly co-worker named John (who made a split-second appearance in a commercial for a national "buy local" campaign) HATES our overuse of awesome. "Really?" he said the other day. "That pizza was so amazing you were overcome at it's power?" He inspired me to write a post about it, wherein I hate on hyperbolists who have hijacked language.

    I know someone who was once incarcerated in that detention center. I've passed it so many times, and I always think of her. Up close, it's so much more depressing.