Back in January, I heard about the inaugural World Book Night in the United States, a celebration designed to celebrate the love of reading and books. They were looking for tens of thousands of volunteer book givers to give out a box of free paperback novels in their local communities on April 23rd and of course I signed up.
Book givers could choose from a list of 30 titles, which were all previous bestsellers. Authors waived royalties and numerous publishing houses across the United States donated towards the printing of collectively one million books. UPS donated their shipping services to get the books from the publishers to the communities.
Last week I received an e-mail from my local Barnes & Noble that my box of 20 books was ready to be picked up. I chose Jhumpa Lahiri’s 2003 novel The Namesake, which I reviewed yesterday on this blog.
Armed with my box of books and accompanied by my husband (who gave away Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game), we headed over to our local grocery store. We thought it would be easy. Who doesn’t like free stuff?
We talked with the store manager on duty, who graciously allowed us to hand out books to customers as they entered or exited the store. My pitch line to greet customers was, “Would you like a free novel in honor of World Book Night?” Who would say “no” to that? After 90 minutes in front of the store, in record temperatures for Las Vegas for this time of year (it was 101*F) when I pulled into the parking lot, here are my statistics from the effort:
Approximate number of customers who entered the store in 90 minutes: 250
Approximate number of customers who were not talking on a cell phone and who would even glance at me long enough for me to deliver my pitch: 45
Estimated percentage of people who either gave me a scathing look or said “I am not interested” before I could even finish my 12 word pitch: 75 percent
Estimated percentage of people who allowed me to explain what World Book Night was, but then declined a free book: 60 percent
Total number of free books given after 90 minutes of trying: 6
Number of people who told me I was wasting my time, that nobody in America has the attention span to read anymore (while wearing a baseball cap for our local university): 1
I am feeling pretty deflated right now. Sure Las Vegas is the current title holder in The Daily Beast’s Dumbest City in America Rankings, but at least some people are open to reading, right? I am no longer so optimistic, but perhaps it’s just that people in this town are so turned off by the constant soliciting in public places that they don’t even hear the words “FREE BOOK!”
I’ve just placed a call to our neighborhood retirement community, asking if their residents would enjoy a box of about a dozen free books. I’m still waiting for a call back. Any suggestions for a “Plan C?”
As I am sure there are blog readers out there who enjoy a good book every now and then, now is time for my blog’s first-ever giveaway. One lucky reader will receive a free *limited edition* World Book Night copy of The Namesake, and I’ll even pay for the postage. All you have to do to enter is post a comment to the question: What is the best book you’ve read in the last year and why? Only one comment per person, please.
I will pick a winner at random (using random.org) on Saturday, April 28th at 11:59 pm PST.
The best book I’ve read in the last year is Sweet Like Sugar by Wayne Hoffman. Besides being about a current issue, the characters were relatable and it gave me a view into a different aspect of Judaism that I hadn’t previously explored.
Modoc: the true stoother the greatest elephant that ever lived, is my favorite book of this year. This one mans life centered around his love and respect for elephants. The story follows him around the world as he works with modoc in the circus, bringing joy to people throughout world.
Do I automatically win if I say “The Wrong Way Down” by Jake Elliot? Oh, wait – I read that last year…
Best book for me this year would be a toss up between the “Song of Ice and FIre” series by George RR Martin and the sci-fi classic “Dune” by Frank Herbert. The Martin series has renewed my faith in fantasy series writing. The characters are well developed and morally ambiguous – you aren’t sure who the “good guys” or “bad guys” are – the characters develop as the novels progress.
Dune has been on my list of things to read for a very long time, and was the first book chosen by my brand new book club. It is a wondrous mix of science fiction, environmentalism, mysticism, and spirituality. It is a coming of age novel for a young man of great import who finds himself in the most inhospitable of places. My favorite character is not Paul however, it is his mother Jessica, who must sacrifice all she holds dear and all of her former beliefs for the mere hope of a future, not only for herself and her children, but for humanity.
An interesting social experiment, although incredibly disheartening. I think you’re right that the issue is Vegas’ continual assault on our senses and constant solicitations. People are irritated and cynical. It’d be cool to try it again next year in, say, Mesquite or St. George.