Thursday, April 25, 2013

World Book Night 2013: 20 Books, 5 Iconic Neighborhoods, 3 Independent Bookstores, 2 Talented Novelists, & a Partridge in a Pear Tree!

I don't mind admitting it:  A few years ago when World Book Night was only overseas, I was jealous.  You can imagine how thrilled I was, therefore, to participate in the first annual US World Book Night last year.  I was equally enthusiastic this year, but far more nomadic.  I didn't sign up to be a book giver for 2013 because who knows where I'll be living four months in the future, right? 

But I was relatively confident that I'd be able to participate.  Last year there were unclaimed books at my local independent bookseller, and I was counting on this year being the same.  (People are so flaky.)  As the day approached, I called over to the fabulous Booksmith on Haight Street to see if they had an unclaimed box and indeed they did.  I said, "I'll take it!"

Now last year, I got my first choice book, and I was thrilled and honored to be handing out copies of my favorite book of all time, John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany.  It was perfect!  This year, none of the thirty books spoke to me in as personal a way, so I figured, I'll just hand out whatever they give me.  I asked what book I'd be distributing and the guy on the phone told me, "Montana Sky."  I thought, That's odd.  I don't know that title.  Moments later, I found out why.  It's a popular Nora Roberts romance.  Oy.

This is not exactly my typical reading--although I actually have read
two of the prolific Ms. Roberts' 200+ novels.  They're both of the popular trashy underwater fiction subset of the romance genre, but they count.  Nonetheless, I am hardly an enthusiast.  Still, it was my plan to sell the heck out of those books.  I read the novel's description and some glowing reviews.  And then my ace in the hole--my friend Nicole, who may be Ms. Robert's #1 fan, and I totally mean that in the Kathy Bates sense of the phrase.  She seemed to think a made for TV movie starring John Corbett was a major selling point, and in at least one case, she may have been right.  (The book, incidentally, is about a wealthy rancher who dies leaving behind a $20 million dollar estate and three daughters from three different marriages.  They don't know each other but have to live together for a year to collect the loot.  Is it just me, or are you getting echoes of Lear?)  But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I had a lot going on Tuesday night.  My plan was just to run all over San Francisco, lugging the books in tow, and handing them out all along the way.  And that's pretty much how it went.  In the late afternoon, I headed over to the Booksmith to pick up the books.  The evening got off to a great start, as I was greeted by my very favorite bookseller, Cynthia, as I walked in the door.  A brief digression...  Remember how every time Norm walked into Cheers, everyone in the bar would call out, "Norm!"  I actually have been greeted with that "Susan!" at the Booksmith, and even when they don't actually say it, that's how I feel.  Okay, digression over.

So, the plan was to grab the books and go.  I was on a schedule, and it was going to be a long night.
That is so not what happened.  I was taken into the back room to locate the case of books.  Once there, all the booksellers and I started talking books.  We're uniformly enamored with Helene Wecker's debut, The Golem and the Jinni, which is actually having its book launch party at the Booksmith tonight.  Be there or be square.  But then someone called out, "Have you read Andrew Sean Greer's book?"  Uh, yeah.  I loved The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells more than words can say! Helene Wecker and Andy Greer are currently duking it out for my favorite book of 2013. Man, those booksellers are on it. So, the point is, I didn't get out of the store quite as quickly as I planned.

I needed to get all the way across the city, so I thought the Muni N train would be my quickest route.  I was handing out books in the Haight as I made my way to the train stop, and had even more success amongst the commuters.  Okay, they look kind of serious in the photo to the left, but I'm telling you, these commuters were thrilled to be gifted a book.  And the gentleman in the glasses?  He was so awesome!  He was the only man who took a Nora Roberts.  He was like, "What's this World Book Night all about?"  So I launched into a mini lecture and the commuters were totally into it.  I explained the idea was to especially target people who maybe aren't big readers, haven't read a book in a long time, or maybe can't afford books.  He admitted that he hadn't read a book in ages, and accepted his copy with enthusiasm.  As you can see, the readers dug right in.  But that guy was my fave.

Okay, the next stop on my agenda was another awesome independent bookstore, Book Passage in the Ferry Building.  This is, of course, a commuter hub on San Francisco's Embarcadero.  I was running over there to hear Maria Semple, the author of Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, speak.  As regular readers of this blog know, it made my top 10 list last year.  What a fantastic and funny novel!  The event was already underway when I arrived, and I was somewhat amused/horrified to see that of the two dozen fans present, 100% of them were women.  Gentlemen, you are missing out on some great fiction. 

Okay, so I was late, but I captured most of the Q & A.  Yes, the footage sucks.  My FlipCam has no focus, and I was at the back.  Sorry.  But what you really need to know is this:  There are serious spoilers for the novel discussed on this video.  This is the paperback tour, and Ms. Semple didn't hold back.  I suspect most of us had already read the book.  Anyway, the conversation is great and worth checking out, but you are forewarned.  Enjoy!

There was no time to rest. As the event ended, I charged out into the Ferry Building and handed out several books to commuters and diners there. My next stop was to backtrack downtown to the Metreon Center. If it hadn't been such a literary night, I might have been attending an advance screening of the film The Big Wedding. Moments after I arrived, the publicists announced that the theater's seats were all filled and sent the rest of the people home. But you know what consoles women thwarted from seeing a free chick flick?  A free romance novel!  More books were handed out.

Okay, from downtown to North Beach and another independent bookstore!  This time, it was to the
world famous City Lights BookstoreJoyce Carol Oates was reading from and signing The Accursed.  Okay, I haven't read it, and have no intention of reading it, but I was meeting my friends Rina and Jacob there, and they're big fans.  I've read and enjoyed Ms. Oates short stories.  Why wouldn't I want to hear her speak?  And I did get to hear her--but not see her.  City Lights was packed!  I was stuck in the back corridor, listening and Tweeting about the shelves of books all around me.  It was okay.  My ears work fine.  And once the Q & A was over, I joined Rina and Jacob in the signing line.  I even took a couple of Rina's books to get signed, and Ms. Oates was friendly and lovely.  We had a very nice chat about this truly fabulous blouse she's wearing.  (Says she's not great with fashion, and that it was a gift.)

North Beach is, of course, a very touristy neighborhood, and a couple more books were handed out there.  By then it was late, and I'd literally been from one end of San Francisco to the other.  I'd worked pretty hard in the course of my book-giving and literature-appreciating.  So, when Rina and Jacob suggested a late dinner in Chinatown, how could I resist?  They introduced me to the Bund Shanghai Restaurant.  OMG, yum!  And bless Rina and Jacob for driving me home.

World Book Night was so much fun!  Yes, even as passionate book-giver as I am, it's a little embarrassing to go up to strangers and offer them an unsolicited romance novel or to make loud announcements on public transportation, but it's totally worth it!  Seriously, so many people were so thrilled to receive a book.  This is a wonderful literacy program, and I'm delighted to have participated.  I look forward to doing so for many years to come.  Many thanks to World Book Night US and all of the participating publishers and authors who donated half a million books to be given away free!


  1. Montana Sky actually sounds interesting. I would've taken one had I been on that train!

    1. Well, I'm sorry not to have encountered you, LOL.

      So, next April 23rd, you have two choices: Prowl the streets of your community looking for book givers and collecting literary loot. Or--even better--follow the World Book Night link in this post and sign up to be a book giver yourself for next year. :-)