One book at a time

World Book Night spreads love of reading

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‘Excuse me. Are you a big reader?”

I asked that question several times Tuesday. The responses ranged from “Not really,” to “I used to be.” I had fewer odd looks than I expected. Most people were curious to know why I asked.

Twenty paperback copies of Lisa Genova’s “Still Alice” were my answer. I was a book giver for World Book Night 2013.

World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading. Each year on April 23, thousands of volunteer book givers take to the streets to give books to light and non-readers.

“What’s the catch?” one man asked after I handed him a book.

No catch. Celebrated internationally, there were a reported 25,000 book givers passing out 500,000 copies of books during World Book Night U.S. on April 23. Worldwide, more than two million books were given away.

“How does it work?” a woman asked.

Books selected for World Book Night U.S. are chosen by an independent panel of librarians and booksellers. The titles had to be an accessible book of quality and available in paperback. All genres are included, with the final mix being a combination of recently-published books and established classics.

People who want to give books in their community fill out an application on the World Book Night U.S. website, sharing how they’d distribute their books and identifying their top three title choices. Those whose applications are selected are contacted by World Book Night U.S. prior to the event.

Each giver receives 20 copies of their title. The books, which are a special publication for the event, are delivered to various pickup sites across the country, including book sites and libraries. Book givers pick them up the week before the event, but aren’t allowed to give any until April 23.

In my application, I said I would distribute my books during the lunch hour in downtown Cedar Rapids. My plan was to give a book to anyone who was looking at their phone instead of reading a book, although I ended up giving a few away outside my original plan.

I handed out the first book at my daughter’s elementary school in North Liberty. I took the second and third books to my gym, giving one to a woman working on the Elliptical machine and leaving the other in the magazine rack. Books four and five were passed on to work colleagues; one who wants to read more this year and the other, a mother of twins, who hopes to read something beyond “Green Eggs and Ham.”

A man and woman walking on Second Ave. SE with their takeout bags received books number six and seven. They weren’t quite sure what to think, which is why each book I gave included a letter explaining World Book Night U.S. tucked inside. I also made bookmarks for each book, some of which included quotes about reading, book recommendations or a “Happy reading!” note.

The majority of my books were passed out at the Armstrong Centre Food Court. I gave several copies to people who were exploring the Internet on their phone instead of reading, but also handed out a few to people who looked like they’d appreciate a free book. I handed one out to a woman getting out of her car on my way to Prairie Soup Company. There, I gave books to the two people standing on front of me in line.

My last two books were shared with Prairie Soup employees. Unfortunately, I had already given away the book that had the “Condense soup, not books” quote bookmark in it.


World Book Night 2013

The celebration may be over, but you can still read the books selected for this year’s event:

  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • My Antonia by Willa Cather
  • Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
  • The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
  • La Casa en Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros -- translated by Elena Poniatowska
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • El Alquimista by Paulo Coelho
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
  • The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
  • Bossypants by Tina Fey
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • Playing for Pizza by John Grisham
  • Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; illustrated by Jules Feiffer
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis
  • The Tender Bar by J.R. Moehringer
  • Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley
  • Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson
  • Population 485 by Michael Perry
  • Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
  • The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
  • Montana Sky by Nora Roberts
  • Look Again by Lisa Scottoline
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
  • Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  • Favorite American Poems in Large Print edited by Paul Negri

To learn more about World Book Night U.S., visit  

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