Wednesday, May 2, 2012

World Book Night Was an Opportunity to Share My Love of Books (May 4, 2012)

“Books are the perfect entertainment: no commercials, no batteries, and hours of enjoyment for each dollar spent.” — Stephen King
That statement sums up my passion for books. I write this not to praise the best-selling author, but to extol the joy of reading that has provided untold hours of contentment throughout my life.
Reading is my preferred leisure activity. A rock and roll enthusiast since Elvis Presley emerged, I enjoy books even more. Rock and roll energizes my soul, but opening a new book, with its distinctive scent and crisp, yet fragile pages, stimulates and fuels my mind from the opening sentence, to unexplored worlds as the chapters unfold and the pages fly by, to the final sentence.
To help broaden and share my zeal with others, I was a volunteer “book giver” on April 23, designated as the second annual World Book Night. The event is the brainchild of a Scottish book publisher, who kicked it off last year in Ireland and the United Kingdom, to spread a love of reading and books. (I’m not clear why the word “night,” as opposed to “day,” is used, so, from here on, I’ll refer to the event as World Book Day [or WBD]).
World Book Day was held this year for the first time in the U.S. and I was eager to be part of the event in which “book givers” distributed more one million free books across the U.S. and another million in the UK, Ireland, and Germany. I enlisted several months ago when I spotted a Facebook posting when the organization wanted volunteers for the early spring distribution.
My WBD mission was to hand out copies of a specially printed edition of a paperback I picked from a list of 30 books, selected by a panel of booksellers and librarians that included a diverse assortment of best-sellers like Maya Angelou’s, I Know Why Caged Birds Sing, The Stand by Stephen King, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Volunteers received more than a dozen copies of one of their three selections. I wound up with my third option, “Peace Like A River,” an acclaimed 2001 novel that I’d never even heard of, but picked after reading a synopsis of it on Amazon.com.
WBD recommended that I distribute the free books to “light and non-readers,” but without a clue as to the best location to fulfill that constraint, I opted for the Brooklyn Public Library branch in Gerritsen Beach. Before giving the book away, I asked each individual a few questions about their reading habits. Following brief conversations in which we discussed favorite authors and books, a few people declined the offer, while others admitted they were light readers, so I handed them the free paperback.
Naturally, most people take anything for free, but one woman was reluctant. She asked me if the book had any religious overtones. Having only read 50 pages at that point, I admitted there was a character with spiritual inclinations and she refused to take the book. I was puzzled, but presumed she may have thought I was a member of a cult or religious faction trying to “spread the word” and proselytize through free materials.
I got into a lengthy discussion on paper versus electronic books with a man, about my age, who, like me, has an aversion to the latter. While we both welcome the conveniences of high tech products, and appreciate the growing popularity of e-readers, especially among the younger generation, we acknowledged that we prefer a bound paper book and turning pages and agreed that it was unlikely we’d ever abandon the traditional format.
I’ll never catch up with the constantly changing technologies, but as I continue to promote reading to children and adults, I hope the future of books and publishing is not solely consigned to hand-held electronic devices.
It’s recommended that to become a better writer, one should read more. However, writing well, as I continue to discover as a writer and editor, is harder than most people realize. Anyone can write or thinks they can but not everyone’s a writer.
Not all books are great literature, nor should they be to be enjoyed. That’s a judgment every reader decides. I’ve read many books that were not satisfying. I stopped reading more than a few that didn’t grip my interest after 100 pages or fewer.
Most of all, whether fiction or non-fiction, a book only has to offer a story that captivates the individual, who is rewarded with a brief interlude of escape every time they start reading. From the first page the reader instantly gets drawn into the narrative flow as the mind’s eye swirls with visions of familiar or unfamiliar places and characters they gradually warm to, loathe or just become part of the story; yet sometimes never forget.
I was bitten by the reading bug as a child and it’s never relented. It has provided me with an irresistible lure to reading that is not just to pass time. Books make you think. They make you laugh or cry and they always teach — whether it’s a new word, a fresh idea or a gripping journey.
Bear in mind, it’s always worth it when you book time to read.