(This is a blog post I wrote earlier this year and shared on my tumblr. It’s about my experience as a World Book Night volunteer. It was such a meaningful experience that I wanted to share this reflection on this blog as well. Enjoy!)
This year I volunteered as a giver for World Book Night 2013, an annual event organized by World Book Night.
World Book Night is a nonprofit that works to increase world literacy, targeting adults who are non or very light readers and in the process building and strengthening relationships in a community. They organize a yearly big book giveaway (of the same name) scheduled for April 23 (Shakespeare’s birthday). Volunteers apply and select the book they want to give away from a list of preselected titles. Approved volunteers get 20 copies of a book to give out for free on the day (or in my case, the day after).
This year there were 25,000 volunteers giving away a half million books in 6,000 towns and cities across the US.
When I applied I said I would give the books to people who are experiencing food insecurity, because when you’re dealing with that, reading unfortunately usually becomes a lesser priority. I gave the books away to people who use the emergency sack lunch program at my church.
The book I gave away was “Good Omens” by Neil Gaimann and Terry Pratchett. I chose this book for a couple of reasons. First, and the obvious reason, it’s simply a good book. It’s a funny, smart, insightful book that’s also accessible, so I thought it would be appropriate. I also loved the idea of giving away this book through church, especially because one of the biggest themes in the book for me is free will, the capacity for good and evil, and this sack lunch program is an instance of humans doing good.
Before the giveaway, I wrote a quote and a brief note in each of the books. I wanted to add a little something more personal to the books, because one of the most important parts of this project is the person to person interaction, and it was especially important for me because I was reaching out to people who tend to be dehumanized. And so in my note I emphasized how these books were printed solely for their enjoyment and that I sincerely hoped that the book would provide them with much happiness.
On the day of the giveaway, I arrived about thirty minutes before the church opened for the food distribution, and I just worked my way up the line. The books went incredibly fast; so many people were so excited to be given something just for them, some of them even started reading the book while waiting in line.
There were a few people in line who had already read the book and were so excited to see me giving it away. They even told the other people in line to get the book because it was so good, and we all talked about our favorite parts of the book. Because of this volunteer opportunity, I got to talk to people I don’t normally interact with on a personal level about books. I got to connect with them in a deeper way, see a different side of these people than I normally do when I give out food through the program. During that time we were just people talking about a great book.
This is the power of World Book Night.
This was seriously one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I highly recommend signing up for the newsletter to learn more about next year’s giveaway.