On World Book Night, April 23, 2012, tens of thousands of people ventured out to distribute free paperbacks in their communities as part of an annual celebration designed to spread a love of reading and books.
This unprecedented reading outreach campaign was made possible by authors, who waived their royalties and a dozen printers and binders who paid for the production and shipping of special editions created especially for World Book Night. American book publishers, the American Booksellers Association, Barnes Noble, the American Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, Ingram Book Company, and UPS also helped sponsor the event.
I signed up to be a donor on World Book Night when I saw that The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was one of the book selections. As our readers know, this book was the winner of the SB&F Prize in 2011 in the Young Adult Category. It is a thought-provoking, relevant, poignant story that also does a masterful job of making science accessible. You can learn a lot of basic science by reading the story of how and Henrietta’s cells had the impact they did on modern medical science. It is one of the most successful nonfiction science books that I have seen in my long tenure as editor of SB&F.
In addition, the book is a personal favorite of mine.
As a resident of Baltimore, I feel a personal connection to the story. Last May, when my son graduated from Morgan State University, Henrietta Lacks was awarded a posthumous degree at the graduation ceremony and members of her family were there to accept the award. It was very moving when the entire graduating class erupted into a roar as Lack’s son accepted the award on his mother’s behalf.
So at around 5:30 pm on World Book Night I headed out to the historic Cross Street Market in the Federal Hill neighborhood where I live. The market closes at 6:00 and activity was winding down, but I managed to give away half of my books. It was a chilly day and starting to rain so I headed to the CVS on Charles Street where I gave away another five copies. Then, I headed back up to Light Street and attempted to give away the remaining copies but had a run of people who were absolutely not receptive to the idea of receiving the gift of a free book. This was disappointing to say the least.
But at the corner of Cross and Light Streets my luck changed.
At the bus stop, I encountered a group of students from nearby Digital Harbor High School. Not only were many of them happy to take the books, but they had all heard of the book and several had already read it! Success! I was especially thrilled because they were precisely the age group that we target for our SB&F Young Adult Science Book award.
Oren Teicher, head of the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstores, says that in Britain last year, World Book Night "triggered an avalanche of publicity for books," which then led to a boost in sales of the same titles that were given away. Let’s hope it has the same effect here! I know I’m ready to do it again next year.
8 May 2012 12:56 PM