It was (is) a noble endeavor: provide givers with 20 copies of a book they love to give away to light or non-readers. This was the second World Book Night, and the first in the US. I chose The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri as my giveaway. Printed some WBN bookmarks to stick in the books. I had decided that my introverted tendencies NOT to engage anyone in conversation if I didn’t have to could be overcome by my reading enthusiasm. I had chosen a corner near an ice cream parlor, used book store, giant park, cafes and restaurants that I thought would get a diverse array of passers-by.
But after hearing of others’ less-than-glowing renditions of their experiences (a coworker even had trouble giving out her book at the homeless shelter where she volunteers!), I scrapped my idea of trying to give out the books to perfect strangers on a street with lots of diverse foot traffic and went to a local pub where I used to work. I managed to give away about 1/2 of my copies, to staff and regulars, and tried to push the idea of a pub book club – hey here’s your first book! The chef had even read and adored the book already! Most don’t read much at all, so most easily fell into the non/light readers category. I plan to give the rest to staff that wasn’t there Monday, and maybe to neighbors (I should really talk to the neighbors shouldn’t I?) and coworkers and other light/non readers I know. I feel terribly that I didn’t manage to give them all away on Monday, but I’m secretly – well now not so secretly – optimistic that a least a few people will discover and enjoy a book they would not otherwise have read, and might become more avid readers because of it. (And maybe they really will start a pub book club… isn’t that a good idea?)
I think some of the experiences of other givers highlight where we are as a society. Even people I knew were suspicious. Why are you giving me a book? Do I eventually have to do something? Wait I don’t even have to pay you? Ohh okay I’ll take a book! It’s almost as if everyone thought you were either selling something or giving them homework & would be coming to collect their book reports later! Are we that naturally suspicious of generosity? What’s the catch, everyone seemed to wonder? Are you going to ask me to sign a petition? Give you some personal information? Sign up for a mailing list?
Honestly, I avoid people on the street trying to engage me all the time — because they pretty much always have an agenda. Sign this or that petition, register to vote, then vote for this person or that person, donate to this cause, sign up for this service, have a credit card, take this book and convert to that religion, etc etc. Some worthy goals, others less worthy. We are never approached by people that are just giving things away for the sheer joy of giving and spreading an activity love. Well, possibly until now, that is.
How did other givers (both successful and less than) approach it? Did they just happen to work/volunteer at the perfect locations? Did they set them in a box with a giant FREE BOOK sign? Did they actually engage random pedestrians in conversation to give away their books?