I Was a World Book Night Giver

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

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It's true.  This year, I was a World Book Night giver, and it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.  Never heard of World Book Night?  That's not surprising if you live in the US, as this was our inaugural year (even so, we had 25,000 givers across the country!  Let's have a big 'Woot!' for that!),  and it was only the second year for the UK and Ireland.  For those who don't know, it works like this:  you sign up, pick your top 3 favorite books from the list they give you, hope you get your first choice (I did), and then wait until you get the email saying your books are ready to pick up.  You then pick up your free (yes, free!) books and, on April 23rd, start passing them out to the literary-deprived like Santa Clause passing out goodies from his big red bag. 

I have to say, for my first time as a WBN giver, it was a pretty special one.  I've been using the term "full circle," which is the most apt way I can put it.  There were 30 titles to choose from.  One of them was a work by Stephen King.  As most people know, sai King is a very prolific writer, so really, WBN could have chosen from any of his 49 novels (and counting).  However, they happened to choose The Stand.  Why is this noteworthy to me?  Being a King fan (yeah, no big reveal there), I've read most of his books, and The Stand isn't even my favorite (though it's in the top 10).  But, you see, it's the way I first came to that story, long ago, in another life, that made the ability to give this particular piece of fiction like a little slice of kismet to me.

When I was 15 years old, I was in a bit of a pickle with my mother.  We were homeless and running from enemies unknown and unseen, except by her.  When you are a woman with a teenage daughter, you are desperate, and you have no place to go, where you go is a shelter.  A battered women's shelter, to be specific, because their locations are secret and this secret will, theoretically, keep you safe.  We were there to disappear, to Escape.  It's a long, sordid story (well, maybe not so long), and I'm not going to tell it all here.  But, suffice it to say, my world was in complete disarray.  We stayed at several shelters that year, and it was at one of those shelters that I came across a copy of The Stand.  The boyfriend I had left behind in a calmer, and to my 15 year old mind, more Utopian realm, had been after me to read this particular novel (this was before my disappearing girl act, you understand).  I had read two other King novels, also at boyfriend's request (he was the catalyst that started the SK fire within me; who knew I'd turn out to be such a junkie?), and had already developed a healthy appreciation for the man's work.  So, I snatched it up.

If you don't know, The Stand is an epic* post-apocalyptic fantasy/horror in which a runaway flu-like virus developed by the US military infects nearly the entire US population and wipes out life as we know it.  A few puzzlingly immune souls remain.  And they, the scattered survivors, must come together to fight the ultimate battle of good and evil.  It's a fantastic story and I recommend it to anyone.  Seriously.  Of course, when I cracked open the first pages of this rather lengthy tome, I was in the midst of a full-blown, snot-oozing summer cold, and had half convinced myself that the end of the human race would start with me.  But, I read on.

Looking back now, I realize just how much those books, and that book in particular, helped me through some of the most terrifying times of my life.  It didn't matter that what I was reading was scary in its own right.  It was the voice of the author, the truth of the characters... I knew it would be okay.  Not that it would end well, there's never any guarantee of that, but whatever happened would be just as it should be, would be, well, I've said this before: true in the telling.  I trusted him.  I knew Uncle Stevie (as he now refers to himself on occasion) would see me through.  And, while I was reading, no matter how unstable the world around me, I wasn't afraid.  I had an anchor, a link to a world where people write amazing and creative things, touch the human spirit, and share it with the rest of us.  I wasn't alone.

And now, I thought, here I am, April 2012 and all grown up, and I have the opportunity to give books--that book--to anyone I like, no strings attached.  Can you guess who got the first several?  I went crazy and called or emailed every shelter I came across.  Some responded, some didn't.  The local battered women's shelter never got back to me, and I think Catholic Charities might have thought such filth (it's a horror novel!) was unfit for the poor unwed mothers they put up in the shelter I inquired about.  But I got to hand them out to a soup kitchen (I know a lady who volunteers there and she said she's got some regulars who try to circulate and trade any books they can get their hands on) and, most fulfilling, to our youth services emergency shelter.  That last one is for kids ages 12-17 who are homeless, runaways or somehow displaced, and need a safe place to go.  A place for teenagers, to keep them safe... that resonated.  They got the bulk of my loot.  The rest were handed out randomly to strangers at the downtown bus station, to my downtown parking garage attendant, to unsuspecting patrons and employees at a Whole Foods Market.  Some of them were probably readers already, and nearly all of them stared at me for a moment while they tried to process who I was and why I was holding out this phone-book-thick paperback to them.  It's free?  Um... And then I'd quickly explain, this is just a fiction novel, Stephen King (maybe you've heard of him?).  It's not religious propaganda and I'm not selling anything.  Really.  Free.  They got the picture in the end.

Presently, the deepest most desperate desire of my heart is this:  that even just one of those twenty copies I distributed touches someone the way it touched me.  That someone going through hard times has found a safe place in this work of fiction, and that it helps to carry them through.  Whatever literary gods there are, I pray you grant me this one wish.  Please.  This is how I pay it forward; how I can come full circle.

Will I be doing this next year?  Most definitely.  A new year, with new book choices.  How could I resist?  I hope I do this every year for the rest of my life.  Viva la World Book Night!


*by this I do not mean 'epic' the way my son would say, "Hey mom, this pink bendy straw is totally epic!"  I mean the dictionary definition of epic, as per dictionary.com,  to wit:



ep·ic

 [ep-ik]  Show IPA
adjective Also, ep·i·cal.
1.
noting or pertaining to a long poetic composition, usuallycentered upon a hero
in which a series of greatachievements or events is narrated in elevated style: 
Homer's Iliad is an epic poem.
2.
resembling or suggesting such poetry: an epic novel on thefounding of the country.





7 comments:

Sarah Franz-Wichlacz said...

I do not know what to say to this. Only that I am so proud of you. So enthused that you've found this way to give back. And hopefully facilitate some of your own continued healing. Im so proud to call you sister.

T. Z. Wallace said...

I am so proud that we both got to do this, and I am especially grateful that you were able to pass out a book that was so close to your heart. Next year will be even better...more books, more ideas, and shirts. By gosh, I am making us shirts!!! I mean it!

Hey, ahem (wait for it)...you know what we should do...?

firespark said...

Thanks, Sarah. It was just one of those times when you realize your own timeline is a loop, rather than a line. Definitely helps with the healing. :)

Lol! No, TZ... what should we do?

T. Z. Wallace said...

We should totally offer our book for FREE at Amazon, as a special, just for WORLD BOOK NIGHT 2013!!!

firespark said...

Ok... I am totally doing this. Good freaking call!

J.A. Grier said...

What an amazing story, and a great idea to encourage reading and literacy.
One Writer's Mind

firespark said...

It really was great. I'm so grateful to the WBN organizers for all their hard work in making it happen.

And thank you, J.A. Grier, for stopping by! :)