GPOYW: World Book Night—April 23—with longtime employee Mark Billingsley at Explore Booksellers in Aspen, Colorado.
On Monday I spent an hour or so approaching strangers in seemingly literary venues and watching their faces light up when I offered to give them free books.
The day before, I had volunteered to distribute specially bound copies of classic and contemporary novels for World Book Night, a nonprofit literacy movement supported by publishers and distributors in North America, through Explore Booksellers in Aspen, and sort of by accident: When I called to inquire about a calendar listing I’d seen in the paper, I was informed that the 6 p.m. “event” was actually an informal volunteers’ meeting. When the clerk added, with a twinge of regret, that I was the only person who had called, I pitied the bookstore. As a writer I felt a sense of duty to spread word of this great cause, so I agreed to pass out some copies around town the next day.
In the morning I approached ladies at our favorite juice bar—“I’m flying out to New York tomorrow, perfect timing!” one said gratefully—and in the afternoon I hit a bustling coffee shop, where a home-bound Aussie accepted Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I popped into the Wheeler Opera House, where I’d listened to a lovely lecture by Ann Patchett last month, and surprised the box-office attendants with her universally adored Bel Canto. There I ran into a coworker, to whom I gifted The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. We headed around the corner to Aspen Brewing Company for happy hour, where I unloaded my final two tomes: John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
One guy on crutches was especially thankful for the award-winning reading material. "What a cool thing you’re doing!" he enthused. I felt good, standing on the brewery patio in the light of the sunset with my empty shopping bag, because despite its origin from a definite pill- and booze-soaked stupor, his statement was strikingly heartfelt.
Just like a good book.