I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare to be a “Book Giver” on World Book Night last night. I had reread “my” book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and picked up the 20 giveaway copies on Thursday at Politics and Prose.
I had specifically picked the book and the giver site—downtown Silver Spring—because it’s a book about a Dominican family that migrated to the U.S. and the troubles faced by the geeky and obese Oscar. It’s also both hilarious and poignant. I figured there are lots of first and second-generation immigrants walking through Silver Spring who would connect with the book.
It wasn’t until Sunday night, though, that I started thinking out how I would actually give away the books. I searched on the World Book Night website, but there was no suggested script or strategy. So, I pinned a homemade yellow cardstock badge (pictured above) on my jacket and figured I’d use techniques previously reserved for political leafleting and Girl Scout cookies.
It had rained all day on Sunday, and I was afraid it would rain during my book giving time, so I packed a huge umbrella and stuffed all the books in my backpack. After parking in the Wayne Avenue garage, I walked to the pedestrian mall on Ellsworth Drive and screwed up my courage to start giving away books at around 5:30 p.m., just in time for the rush hour crowds. By then, incredibly enough, it had finally stopped raining.
“Hello. This is World Book Night. Would you like a free book?”
You’d think I was a scam artist the way people reacted to me! They wouldn’t look at me and they waved me away before I even got five words out of my mouth. I tried to approach people whom I thought would not be regular readers (in other words, I tried to avoid Caucasian women and old folks). My first success was with a tall young black man who seemed pleased to get the book, although he didn’t ask me anything about it. I gradually honed my pitch, adding “it won the Pulitzer Prize and was a New York Times Bestseller,” just to show that it was a good gift.
I would always show the book cover but I think that was a turnoff: It’s a blob of red that makes the book look like a murder mystery. The good thing about the cover was that it said, prominently, “World Book Night 2012,” so it validated me.
Little by little, I found more “customers”. Some asked me what it was about and seemed more interested when I told them. One young Asian woman said she had meant to read it and was happy to get a free copy. I had a nice chat with a young father who works in a soup kitchen. He had actually heard of World Book Night and told me the soup kitchen runs some men’s book groups.
When down to my last three books, I was determined to find three Latina-looking women as my final giftees because I’m pretty sure they would really enjoy the book. Success! One of the last women I gave it too was skeptical when I approached her, but when I told her what it was about she sounded eager to read it.
In a little over an hour, I was done. I wondered if I had been too speedy. I hope all 20 people read their gift books, but I have a feeling only a few will actually do it. But, that’s a few more readers in the world!
For more information about World Book Night, visit www.worldbooknight.org.