When looking at an effort with the scale of World Book Night U.S.—half a million books will be given away to strangers across all 50 states on April 23—it’s helpful to consider some numbers: 25,000 “givers” have volunteered to give away their allotment of books to people, many of whom they’ve never met, in their communities (5,800 towns and cities will participate); 2,200 bookstores and libraries will serve as central hubs, where givers are picking up the books; and 750 of those bookstores and libraries are holding pre-WBN receptions.
One such bookstore is Watermark Books in Wichita, Kans., the city with the seventh-highest number of givers per capita. Watermark will serve as its community’s WBN headquarters—107 boxes were shipped to the store on April 10 for givers to pick up. On April 16 Watermark hosts an event for all givers to come and talk about their books, what their plans are for April 23, and what this event means to them.
Individual givers will account for roughly half of the books Watermark held. The other half will be split between the police force and local preschools. The books going to the police force, Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark, said, will be distributed to community officers, who will, in turn, hand out the books to individuals in the community with whom they have a relationship—either people they’re keeping an eye on or people they’re trying to help get back on their feet. The officers will be giving out Blood Work by Michael Connelly, a thriller that Bagby called “a perfect fit” for the police force effort. The books to the preschools are for the parents of children of low socioeconomic backgrounds at three schools with which Watermark partners—every Christmas, customers can buy a book to donate to the schools, delivered with essentials like hats and gloves to all the children at the three schools.
In Austin, Tex., the top giver city per capita in the country, BookPeople is doing much of the heavy lifting, helping to distribute 5,000 books around the city. WBN in Austin was largely planned by Scott Lubeck, executive v-p at Bert Davis Executive Consulting, and BookPeople’s staff, including CEO Steve Bercu. BookPeople held a meeting early this year inviting anyone who was interested in participating in WBN to come to the store. A number of individuals showed up, but so did representatives of community groups—and BookPeople switched its focus to these organizations, seeing an opportunity for a larger distribution effort. The six groups participating in WBN include the Austin Teen Book Fest, the Austin Children’s Shelter, Dell Children’s Medical Center, and the Austin American Indian Education Center. Said BookPeople publicist Julie Wernersbach: “For groups, we’re arranging separate pickup times with their leaders. We have all of those boxes organized by group and at scheduled times; those groups are coming to the store and we’re loading up their cars,” with Wernersbach noting that two groups have already picked up their books. “Whatever bookseller hands are available have been moving boxes. Making every piece of the WBN machine work has been a storewide project. Some of our booksellers are givers themselves.” Leading up to April 23, BookPeople hosted a reception on April 15, much like Watermark’s, in order to allow givers a chance to meet and talk about the importance of WBN.
Despite the impressive nationwide efforts, the small, individual act of giving someone a book was mentioned by all who spoke to PW, and indeed World Book Night is about the individual. In South Portland, Maine, Kate Leahy will give away copies of Ender’s Game and Zeitoun at the Coast Guard military base where her husband is stationed. Leahy said she picked those books because they’d appeal to a wide range of people. In Wichita, Bagby plans to give her 20 copies of Just Kids by Patti Smith to students at a local fine arts high school, “to show them that everyone is from somewhere.”
“There’s a community around books,” Bagby said. “The idea that you can hand someone a book that meant something to you, and it can mean something to them is inspiring.” Speaking about participating in WBN, Bagby said: “Next year, I think people will say, ‘Why didn’t I do that?’”