On April 23rd I participated in World Book Night. With thousands of other book lovers, I was part of a group that gave out over 500,000 books in one day. This was not limited to librarians, and I encourage you to get involved next year if talking to strangers is your thing! Below is my ssay for the WBN book-giver essay contest.(I could win 2 round trip airline tickets!!)
I gave out the very funny book Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I urge you to pick up this (audio)book ASAP. The narrator has the perfect voice for this story.
My World Book Night Experience
Against all laws of physics and medicine, every drop of blood in my veins rushed through my pounding heart, up my neck, and into my head. There isn’t enough room in here! cried my brain, thumping. Oh I’m burning red! screamed my face, flushed. Like the protagonist Bernadette Fox in Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, I was having a panic attack.
No. No, April. Calm down. You are giving someone a free book. You cannot get arrested for this.
For some unknown reason, “Can I get arrested for this?” has always been the barometer with which I judge many of my potential actions. Despite never being arrested, I always stop short of yelling at other drivers, I rarely confront poorly-behaved strangers, and I always triple-check my reusable grocery bags…just in case a police officer is nearby and is feeling particularly cuff-happy.
When I got over my completely irrational fear of being arrested for giving out a free book – which, I found out the next week, nearly happened to a teen in Meridian, Idaho – I tentatively fingered the first book in the box and coaxed it out. I sat down on a bench in the women’s locker room of my gym and said to a woman tying the laces on her cycling shoes, “Can I bother you for a sec? I have a book here about a woman whose severe agoraphobia leads her to run away from her own family to Antarctica. It’s the funniest book I read in 2013 and would love to give you a copy. For free. It’s World Book Night, after all.”
My experience on World Book Night 2014 was equal parts rewarding and terrifying (as my aforementioned momentary panic attack revealed). Despite being the librarian who greets every single patron who walks (or runs) into the Teen Center, who smiles at everyone I pass en route to refill my peacock-feather adorned water bottle halfway across the building, I can freeze when confronted with an unknown scenario. I am the fainting goat of the social world; freezing, falling over, unable to move. Just for a moment.
At least, that’s what I do inside. On the outside, I am composed and speak calmly (okay, a bit excitedly, if I’m being honest). This is what I did in the gym, at Kohl’s, at McDonald’s, and at the gas station. I started out the day with trepidation, slowly grew more comfortable, and eventually turned darn near excited to give out my book. By the time I scraped the twentieth book out of the box, I was begging for more copies to magically appear. No, no, I’m not done telling strangers about this book! I’m not done meeting new people and giving them an opportunity to become a reader again!
I am amazed at how quickly my panic turned to thrill on World Book Night. How chatting with twenty people about their reading habits, about WBN, and about a book I truly enjoyed reading became the highlight of my week. How stepping out of my social comfort zone turned into a lesson in confidence. How similar I was to Bernadette, the agoraphobic heroine of the very book I was tasked with giving out. Yet how similar I became to her socially adept daughter Bee.
Perhaps the book was more than the funniest book I read in 2013. Perhaps it was also the most personal.