I honestly don't remember how I heard about World Book Night. I signed up for it earlier this semester, and proposed to hand out books down in the area of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Why there? Because it's a rapidly changing area of Baltimore that is populated by a mix of people from different backgrounds - hospital workers, locals, students, and others, and I figured that would be a good location to reach people who don't have the same kind of access to books that those of us up in the Ivory Tower of Homewood do. The neighborhood is rapidly changing (see here), and not always with the most positive outlook (see here, though rather outdated). So a little grassroots effort and spreading the joys of reading could do no harm, I thought.
After picking up my 20 copies of Diane Ackerman's "The Zookeeper's Wife" from Breathe Bookstore Cafe in Hampden earlier this week, I loaded them into a large tote and backpack (and worried briefly about my back). Wednesday morning, I took the JHMI shuttle down to JHH. I hadn't been to this part of Baltimore since signing up for the National Bone Marrow Registry program several years ago. I was surprisingly nervous - naturally a shy person, I've overcome much of my shyness through lots of teaching, but here I was, worried I'd have to do too much explaining, or people would brush me off and ignore me.
My first recipient was my shuttle driver, who was, in fact, delighted to receive a free book - so much so that he asked me to sign it! (even though I explained that I didn't write it; I'm writing an entirely other kind of book) This gave me the confidence to take to the streets and start handing out books. Some of the people and circumstances I encountered:
- I gave out books to people just walking past me on the street, around food carts and trucks, people waiting for buses, and security guards on the corners around the hospital
- Most people were genuinely excited to receive a book
- A few people were confused about the whole thing
- Only three people said no, although one man who said no then helped me recruit someone else
- Several told me great stories about how much they loved to read, how they'd been looking for a new book, how they couldn't wait to read it, and how they would pass it along to someone else when finished
- One hot dog vendor was so impressed with the whole concept of WBN he gave me a free hot dog & chips
- One man not only gladly took the book I gave him, but then proceeded to ask me for money. Which I gave to him as well (I never do this).
- Two people told me stories of how much their children and grandchildren loved to read
- Several others had children with them - while I didn't seek out specific people to be recipients of free books, I did have my eye out for those with children. If the parents love to read, chances are the children will as well, I think.
On the grander scale of why I did this (especially at the end of the term when I'm about to lose my mind with work), I was incredibly impressed with the entire concept, because reading truly changed my life. I'm one of those people - the ones who can't stop reading, and readying anything. My parents read to me even before I was born, and I have never been far from books since. Books have opened the world for me - inspired me to get an education, travel the world, and do everything that I want to do. Today's experience proved, too, that WBN is more than a concept - that the experience of physically giving books to others can not only inspire a love of reading, but a love of sharing and giving as well.
Do I know that my efforts are or will be successful? Not really. But if just one of my 20 books that I let loose into the world on Wednesday makes in into the hands of someone who discovers the joy of not being able to put a book down, or who wants to learn more about history, or who wants to read more books by Diane Ackerman or about the Holocaust, or any number of things, then I will consider my work complete. Or at least until next year.