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World Book Night: coming your way, but no room for Amazon

On World Book Night thousands of volunteers in the US and Europe will hand out books, hoping to pass along their own love of reading.

By Husna Haq / April 23, 2012

Twenty thousand volunteers will hand out 1 million books in Britain for World Book Night. In the US much of the publishing industry is helping to underwrite the event, but not Amazon, which was not invited to participate.

Luke Macgregor/Reuters

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It’s the Super Bowl of literary athletes, the Mardi Gras of bibliophilic partiers, Christmas for book-lovers across the world.

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It’s World Book Night, the day when tens of thousands of volunteers in the US and Europe will hand out millions of free books to underserved communities to encourage reading.

In the US, 25,000 volunteers will distribute 500,000 free paperback books in some 5,800 communities across the country through book-centered events and community drop-offs. In Britain, 20,000 volunteers will distribute 1 million books. Ireland and Germany are celebrating, too.

“It’s like an intellectual Halloween, only better,” novelist and essayist Anna Quindlen, the program’s honorary chairwoman, told USA Today. “We’re giving out books, not just Mars bars.”

Sponsored by a coalition of publishers, booksellers, and librarians, World Book Night is modeled after a British program that began last year.

The point, says World Book Night director Carl Lennertz, “is to get good books in the hands of people who are underserved because of income or location or other reasons.”

Though there is no public registry of who’s giving away books where, participants will be handing out books in schools, prisons, and homeless shelters, some of which will be posted on Facebook and Pinterest.

“It’s also about giving,” he told USA Today. “There may not be anything that says, ‘I care about someone else, friend or stranger,’ more than handing them a book that you personally love and want to share.”

In the US, a committee of librarians, publishers, and booksellers selected 30 titles to distribute, including novels like Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner,” memoirs like Patti Smith’s “Just Kids,” non-fiction like Dave Eggers’ “Zeitoun,” and young adult hits like Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.”

April 23 is the UNESCO International Day of the Book, chosen in honor of Shakespeare and Cervantes, both of whom died on April 23, 1616. World Book Night honors these literary titans and legions of others.

(An interesting aside: At yet another book industry jab at Amazon, USA Today reports most of the publishing industry, including Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million, is involved in underwriting World Book Night. The one exception? Amazon. It wasn’t asked to participate because “the philosophy behind World Book Night has been about physical books in physical places, handed out person to person,” said Lennertz.)

To find out more about World Book Night and how you can participate, visit www.us.worldbooknight.org.

Happy World Book Night!

Husna Haq is a Monitor correspondent.

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