Next week, patrons of the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library here in Butte, Montana will witness Glaciers moving through the book stacks. Not the turquoise-blue icebergs of the Arctic variety, but something just as beautiful: the words on the pages of Alexis M. Smith's debut novel.
So, when the list of available books for this year's World Book Night was released, there was never any question about which title I would choose. Sure, I love Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and I wouldn't mind distributing copies of Willa Cather's My Antonia, but given the opportunity to promote a debut novel published by a small, independent press, I'll pick the David over Goliath any day.
This year, on April 23, at thousands of locations around the United States, book lovers will simultaneously start handing out copies of selected books to random strangers. It's like a literary Happening, a national bibliophilic flash mob, and every red-letter day rolled into one inky burst of enthusiasm for the written word. I long for the day when World Book Night becomes a federal holiday. Can't you just picture all those parades snaking down Main Streets everywhere? Instead of marching bands, you can have entire platoons of readers, noses buried in books, walking in perfect lock-step while reading aloud--everyone from Walt Whitman to David Sedaris.
Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but you can't blame me for dreaming, can you?
Last year, during the first U.S. World Book Night, I had a great time handing out copies of Leif Enger's Peace Like a River to early-morning customers at the Butte Starbucks on Harrison Avenue. This year, I came up with the idea of making the public library my distribution point because: a) Isabel, the main character in Smith's novel, works in a Portland, Oregon library; and b) the staff at the BSB library have been so supportive of my writing over the years, I wanted to return the favor.
This will be the second year for the U.S. version of World Book Night (it began in the United Kingdom in 2011 and the book-lovin' fever quickly crossed the Atlantic to our shores). In a nutshell, here's how it works: each year, 30 books are chosen by an independent panel of librarians and booksellers. The authors of the books waive their royalties and the publishers agree to pay the costs of producing the specially-printed World Book Night U.S. editions. Readers like me apply to be "givers" and, once approved, receive a box of 20 copies of their selected book--like this:
I picked up my box from The Country Bookshelf in Bozeman a few days ago and snapped this photo of the bookstore's promotion of World Book Night:
It's up to givers to figure out a way to hand out their WBN books to members of the public. Last year, some givers gave out books while surfing off the coast of California; others took them to schools, prisons, or walked the streets of New York City wearing a sandwich board that read "Hate Reading? Talk to Me!"
My plan this year is to start reading Glaciers from page 1 and I'll keep reading until all 20 copies of the book have been handed out to folks stopping by the library. It will be an honor to read Smith's gorgeous prose aloud to this random audience in Butte. I figure even in the worst-case scenario where no one shows up, I'll have spent a great evening reading a good book.
So, if you happen to find yourself in Uptown Butte on April 23 between the hours of 4 and 6 pm, please stop in the library and pick up your absolutely-free, no-strings-attached copy of Glaciers. For those of you who live elsewhere, be sure to check out the WBN events nearest you and go support this exciting way to put good books into new readers' hands.