World Book Night is coming to the U.S.
Londoners won't be the only ones accosted by strangers handing out free books in 2012. For the first time, World Book Night will be taking place in the U.S., just a few hours after the British celebration in April.
Each year, publishers rally the support of thousands of volunteers to give away books. They give them to friends and relatives and stand on sidewalks and street corners, sharing literature with any willing passerby. As crazy as it seems, the venture has actually caused an uptick in book sales.
Three books given away during World Book Night in 2010 saw sales rise in the triple digits in the following year: Nigel Slater's "Toast" climbed 367%, John le Carré's "The Spy Who Came In From the Cold" rose 106%, and Seamus Heaney's "New Selected Poems" went up 102%. And five books that were announced as selections for the 2011 giveaway benefited in advance of the handout. Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin," Alan Bennett's "A Life Like Other People's," Mohsin Hamed's "The Reluctant Fundamentalist," David Mitchell's "Cloud Atlas" and Muriel Spark's "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" all had increased sales in the weeks before World Book Night 2011, with "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" going up 63%.
Part of the sales bump may be due to the media attention World Book Night garners in England. Last year, Jamie Byng of Canongate debated the merits of the giveaway with booksellers, who have raised concerns about the freebies devaluing the books they sell in their stores. There are also book groups and advance discussions of the books that will be given away.
British publishers have announced the selection of the 25 books that will be passed out in 2012. They include titles of many genres, old and new, including Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," "The Player of Games" by Ian M. Banks, Paulo Coehlo's "The Alchemist" and Cormac McCarthy's "The Road." Twenty thousand volunteers sign up to give away 48 copies of the book of their choice, all on the day of the event.
World Book Night U.S. has not yet announced its selection of books, but Executive Director Carl Lennertz says the choices are currently being made. Publishers Weekly reports that the board of directors includes executives from Penguin, Barnes & Noble, Grove Atlantic, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Random House, Ingram Content Group, Hachette Book Group, Farrar, Straus & Giroux and the American Booksellers Assn.
World Book Day was founded by UNESCO to celebrate books and reading worldwide. World Book Night was created to coincide with it, and will take place April 23.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Volunteer Annette Fenner hands out free books for World Book Night in London. Credit: Luke MacGregor / Reuters