Sharing the love of good books

What if 25,000 volunteers across the globe decided to give away half a million free favorite books to non-readers all on the same day?

That’s what is expected to happen Tuesday on World Book Night.

If this celebration of the written word isn’t a common household name yet, that’s only because it is relatively new and still growing. The campaign first began in 2011 in England and Ireland, then spread in 2012 to Germany and the United States.

Locally, the concept has caught on in Northeast Michigan with six individual volunteers and Blue Phoenix Books in Alpena getting in on the action.

The six will be joining their counterparts around the country and across the ocean in reaching out to those who have yet to fall in love with reading. It is hoped that the recipients of the books ultimately will be inspired to embark on their own reading journey.

“I’ve been really excited about doing this,” said volunteer Lucille Gillard of Hubbard Lake, who first heard about the coordinated book campaign from participating family members in Petoskey. She in turn contacted Blue Phoenix Books last year, which quickly agreed to participate.

“I just think it’s a wonderful thing. Lots of people and women don’t take the time to read,” Gillard said.

How it works is that an independent panel of booksellers and librarians choose a list of 30 book titles. The authors of the books waive their royalties, and the publishers agree to pay the costs of producing the World Book Night editions.

Bookstores such as Blue Phoenix and libraries sign up to be collection points and members of the public sign-up to be givers. The books are shipped to the collection points, the givers pick their books up there and then on April 23, distribute them around their communities.

According to the World Book Night founders, selection of April 23 as the giveaway day holds significance in world literature. The date coincides with the birth and death of Shakespeare as well as the death of the great Spanish novelist, Cervantes.

“It makes it special because it’s Shakespeare’s birthday,” said Blue Phoenix owner Kim Krajniak, explaining that last year the store saw only one participant (Gillard) because the information on the giveaway was disseminated a little late. Krajniak is enthused to see that number increase to six participants this year and is looking forward to even more next year as awareness of the program spreads.

A long-time reader and member of a book discussion group, Gillard’s book pick is “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Tracy Chevalier.

“For someone who doesn’t normally read a lot, it’s a good start,” she said. “It’s an easy read not too long but a good book.” She plans to share “Girl with a Pearl Earring” with several members of her church and other residents in her community.

This year’s World Book Night titles include such classics as “My Antonia” by Willa Cather and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” by Mark Twain. The list also offers plenty of contemporary fiction like “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coulho, “Playing for Pizza” by John Grisholm and “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis.

Margaret McGee, a teacher at St. Ignatius Catholic School in Rogers City, regularly exchanges books online with other book lovers from around the work. She became interested in World Book Night after receiving a copy of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” in the mail from a previous World Book Night participant in England.

“The book inspired me to look up the program and it inspired me to participate,” said McGee, who chose that same title for the 20 books she will be giving away Tuesday. She said her plan is hand them out at a local coffee shop frequented by high school students.

With her enthusiasm for the program, McGee also inspired fellow St. Ignatius teacher Lori Leow to participate. Leow chose “Mudbound” by Hillary Jordan to share with her fifth and sixth grade students.

Other givers will be sharing the books they love at places as diverse as nursing homes, hospitals, food pantries, schools and mass transit stops. Getting books into the hands of potential new readers in such fashion is a concept embraced by Blue Phoenix Manager Paige Edwards.

“What I like about World Book Night is that it’s a way for all of the independent and bigger book stores across the country to team together in distributing books to those either who don’t have the means to have their own books or who may not be as heavy readers,” Edwards said. “It’s a way to inform them and get them involved in loving books.”

For more information about World Book Night, go online to or contact Blue Phoenix Books at 278-4020.