GOOD

Here’s What Happens When You Hand Out Books to Strangers

On April 23, World Book Night reminds us that sharing books is a great thing to do. #ProjectLiteracy

Giverati spreading the love of reading #wbn2014 with CATCH-22

A photo posted by World Book Night US (@wbnamerica) on


A few years ago, I spent a lovely spring evening handing out one of my favorite novels to total strangers in New York City. It was April 23, and I was one of some 50,000 volunteers around the world spreading literary cheer on behalf of World Book Night (W.B.N.), an annual celebration of reading that began five years ago in the United Kingdom. Reactions from jaded New Yorkers to a no-strings-attached free book ranged from simmering distrust to utter delight—and by the end of the evening, I was confident that I’d successfully encouraged at least few adults to read more often.

Reading offers a multitude of scientifically proven health benefits, including enhanced cognitive abilities, higher self-esteem, and a decreased risk for Alzheimers. Still, 35 percent of people in the United Kingdom don’t regularly read, and only half of Americans read more than five books a year. W.B.N. is working to change that, one free book at a time. As a program of The Reading Agency, W.B.N. distributes 250,000 specially produced books throughout the United Kingdom alone, to prisons, homeless institutions, and individuals. Says Rose Goddard, W.B.N. Program Manager: “Everyone who gives books on World Book Night is a volunteer, encouraging others to read and setting them on their reading journey.”

W.B.N.’s efforts seem to be working: Of W.B.N book recipients polled in 2014, 83 percent said that they intended to read more after receiving a W.B.N. book. But beyond handing out physical copies, W.B.N. is a movement about community and the power that books have to bring people together. In addition to the volunteers—who report hugs and smiles as a result of their giving—publishers donate specially printed books, authors forgo royalties, and bookstores and libraries (nearly 2,500 in 2014) host book collection drives.

All of these freebies might seem detrimental in today’s delicate bookselling climate, but booksellers have been surprisingly supportive, many believing that the act of sharing books is a contagious phenomenon. The Los Angeles Times reported an impressive uptick in book sales after the inaugural W.B.N. five years ago, and Goddard adds that 86 percent of the 2014 volunteers said they intended return to their local bookshops and libraries.

Wbnamerica book editions

A photo posted by World Book Night US (@wbnamerica) on

Still, all that enthusiasm is expensive, and last year, W.B.N. suspended its official U.S. efforts despite (or perhaps because of) the program’s success, citing financial difficulties after 25,000 volunteers handed out more than half a million specially created books to unsuspecting Americans last April 23. This year, W.B.N. is encouraging individuals to hand out non-W.B.N. books, whether they come from their own stacks or were specially purchased for the night. Goddards says that volunteers remain enthusiastic, tracking their gifting using the hashtag #readingjourney, and that the W.B.N. social networks “have had some brilliant responses, showing just how powerful book gifting can be.”

Indeed, a number of community events have sprouted up surrounding W.B.N., including the Dartford Book Exchange, which invites residents of Dartford, England to donate or exchange used books in the weeks leading up to April 23. Kelly Goldsworthy explains that she and her co-organizer, Stephen Oliver, were both selected as W.B.N. volunteers: “We intend to give [W.B.N. books], as well as any books we have left at the end [of the book swap] to organizations like refuges, day centers, and care homes—in line with the W.B.N. principles of encouraging reading amongst those who are not yet book lovers.”

Back in America, former W.B.N. volunteers have been keeping the spirit alive across the country. Book blog Book Riot has teamed up with nonprofit The Harry Potter Alliance for the B.Y.O.B. Book Drive (“Bring your own outrageous, outstanding, overflowing books”) in support of HPA’s Accio Books campaign. Jenn Northington, Book Riot’s Director of Events and Programming, says that there was “something magical” about the W.B.N. experience: “It led to some really fascinating conversations with strangers.”

The B.Y.O.B. Book Drive, she explains, came out of conversations she had about the end of the official U.S. event. Book Riot’s drive is about “collecting as many books as we can to donate to the literacy charities we’re working with.” Book lovers are invited send in their used books, or to attend April 23 meet-ups scheduled in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Richmond, Virginia. “I am so excited to meet the different people who come out,” says Northington.

And no doubt, many will—because if World Book Night shows us anything, it’s that books are a profound connector of people. When I gave away my final W.B.N. book on the subway a couple years ago—The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver—the recipient was a woman whose gruff city armor made me nervous to approach her. At first, she grimaced as though I were about to hand her a dirty diaper. But once she held the book and flipped through, she started to relax, and we spent the rest of our subway ride engaged in a rich conversation about the book’s themes—imperialism and women’s rights. We were so involved in our discussion that we continued talking for nearly 20 minutes out on the street before finally parting ways.

I never saw that woman again, but I’ve often pictured her enjoying my favorite book as much as I did. And I like to think that she’s shared and discussed it with many others, because that’s what the spirit of W.B.N. is all about.

Articles
AFP News Agency / Twitter

A study out of Belgium found that smart people are much less likely to be bigoted. The same study also found that people who are bigoted are more likely to overestimate their own intelligence.

A horrifying story out of Germany is a perfect example of this truth on full display: an anti-Semite was so dumb the was unable to open a door at the temple he tried to attack.

On Wednesday, October 9, congregants gathered at a synagogue in Humboldtstrasse, Germany for a Yom Kippur service, and an anti-Semite armed with explosives and carrying a rifle attempted to barge in through the door.

Keep Reading Show less
Communities
via Andi-Graf / Pixabay

The old saying goes something like, "Possessions don't make you happy." A more dire version is, "What you own, ends up owning you."

Are these old adages true or just the empty words of ancient party-poopers challenging you not to buy an iPhone 11? According to a new study of 968 young adults by the University of Arizona, being materialistic only brings us misery.

The study examined how engaging in pro-environmental behaviors affects the well-being of millenials. The study found two ways in which they modify their behaviors to help the environment: they either reduce what they consume or purchase green items.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

One of the biggest obstacles to getting assault weapons banned in the United States is the amount of money they generate.

There were around 10 million guns manufactured in the U.S. in 2016 of which around 2 million were semiautomatic, assault-style weapons. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade association, the U.S. industry's total economic impact in 2016 alone was $51 billion.

In 2016, the NRA gave over $50 million to buy support from lawmakers. When one considers the tens of millions of dollars spent on commerce and corruption, it's no wonder gun control advocates have an uphill battle.

That, of course, assumes that money can control just about anyone in the equation. However, there are a few brave souls who actually value human life over profit.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via Reddit and NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Trees give us a unique glimpse into our past. An examination of tree rings can show us what the climate was like in a given year. Was it a wet winter? Were there hurricanes in the summer? Did a forest fire ravage the area?

An ancient tree in New Zealand is the first to provide evidence of the near reversal of the Earth's magnetic field over 41,000 years ago.

Over the past 83 million years there have been 183 magnetic pole reversals, a process that takes about 7,000 years to complete.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Pixabay

The final episode of "The Sopranos" made a lot of people angry because it ends with mob boss Tony Soprano and his family eating at an ice cream parlor while "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey plays in the background … and then, suddenly, the screen turns black.

Some thought the ending was a dirty trick, while others saw it as a stroke of brilliance. A popular theory is that Tony gets shot, but doesn't know it because, as his brother-in-law Bobby Baccala said, "You probably don't even hear it when it happens, right?"

So the show gives us all an idea of what it's like to die. We're here and then we're not.

Keep Reading Show less
Health