Wednesday, April 24, 2013

World Book Night 2013: My Short Marathon-Reading Adventure

Being an account of the narrator's World Book Night adventure in the Old West mining city of Butte, Montana, specifically at the Butte-Silver Bow Public Library, with occasional pauses for breath and sips of water while reading Glaciers by Alexis Smith and tossing copies of aforementioned book to passersby like a rock star flinging a sweat-mopped T-shirt into a concert crowd; with able assistance by Regan deVictoria, champion co-Giver and all-round A-Number-One librarian.

I was all ready for it.  I had two bottles of water at hand.  I had my well-worn copy of Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith in front of me.  I'd rested my throat all day, speaking to co-workers in a mumble or whisper.  I was prepared to settle in for a long night of reading Smith's debut novel to patrons at the Butte Silver-Bow Library here in my adopted Montana hometown as part of World Book Night 2013 activities.

With the assistance of library director Lee Miller and head of library programming Regan deVictoria, I'd spread the word of my reading marathon goals in the local media and through social media.  I had visions of Charles Dickens, inexhaustibly reading A Christmas Carol to Victorian audiences until his throat crackled with flame.  If Chuck D. could do it, so could I.

Glaciers was one of my favorite books of 2012, so imagine my delight when I saw it had made the World Book Night list.  As soon as I was confirmed to be a Giver of that title, I knew exactly where I wanted to hand it out: my local library.  The novel's main character, 28-year-old Isabel, works in the Portland, Oregon library repairing damaged books, so I thought it would be apropos if I distributed the book to readers in a building in uptown Butte, Montana that had been home to thousands of books since 1893.

Admittedly, this was something of a World Book Night stunt.  I could have just handed out copies of my chosen book with an infectious smile and a street-preacher urgency--"Here you go!  Read this and your life will never be the same!"--as I did for last year's WBN when I gave out Leif Enger's Peace Like a River to caffeine-fiends at the Butte Starbucks. But I wanted to do something different in honor of Glaciers. I wanted to cup Smith's lyrical prose in my mouth, let it stream like silver ribbons off my tongue, starting with the first sentence--"Isabel often thinks of Amsterdam, though she has never been there, and probably never will go"--and proceeding forth all the way to the final line, if need be: "So she begins, I've never been to Amsterdam."

But I had faith in Butte readers (and those lured by the promise of that four-letter word "FREE") and I figured this would be more like a couple of laps around the track rather than an entire marathon.  As it turned out, it was closer to a 100-yard dash.

I arrived at the library a few minutes late (poor time manager that I am) and found a half-dozen Glacier-hungry readers already waiting for me.  I made my apologies, gave a brief explanation of World Book Night's history and purpose, then I plunged in to the story of Isabel, repairer of damaged books and collector of thrift-store ephemera.

Regan was an enthusiastic co-Giver, doling out the 20 copies of the book to patrons who drifted over, snared by the sound of my voice reading Smith's beautiful words.  Some Receivers took Glaciers with a silent, wary nod of thanks, but others hung around the alcove and settled into the two rows of chairs we'd set up.  One heavyset man followed along in his copy and slyly informed me when I transposed "porpoises" and "whales" in one sentence.  When he grinned, a snaggletooth popped out from between his lips.  I thanked him for his diligence and continued to read.

I'd reached page 34, pausing for breath between chapters, when Regan held up the empty WBN box and announced, "That's it.  They're all gone."

One lady, a lovely old soul wearing a Sunday-go-to-meetin' black hat, groaned at the news.  "It can't end now."  She'd sat there the entire time--all 25 minutes of my "marathon"--wrapped in the ribbons of words.  "I have to hear how it ends.  Will you come to my house and read the rest to me?"

And I would have gone home with her, reading the rest of Glaciers until my throat bled, if I didn't have a wife waiting at home for me, expecting me to fix dinner.  Also, my larynx felt a little like someone had scraped it with a garden rake.  "You'll have to finish it on your own," I said. "But just think of all you've got to look forward to."

I thanked everyone for coming.  My work here was done.  Another triumphant World Book Night was, er, on the books.  I went home happy.  But probably not as happy as those new readers carrying Glaciers with them, eager to discover the rest of the story for themselves.

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