World Book Night Baltimore: “Books Can Only Make People Better”

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Jamie Watson reads Jon Green -- all photos by Howard Yang.
Jamie Watson reads Jon Green — photos by Howard Yang.

On Wednesday evening, five Baltimore book lovers shared excerpts from works they’ve adored for some time, novels and nonfiction that landed on the World Book Night reading list for 2013. Afterward, volunteers with Moveable Feast were all set to deliver boxes of great paperbacks to less fortunate Baltimoreans in need of a great read.

Wait, what the heck is World Book Night anyway? (Not to be confused with World Book Day, incidentally.) It is most simply a celebration of reading – WBN is also a nonprofit organization that annually oversees an inspiring festival of book-gifting sponsored by independent book givers, booksellers, libraries, and other financial supporters. Each year on April 23 – UNESCO’s Day of the Book as well as William Shakespeare’s birthday — tens of thousands of people venture out into their communities and give away half a million free World Book Night paperbacks.

“Last April, U.S. book givers personally handed out half a million printed books in 5,800 towns and cities across the country,” according to the WBN website. “We provide the free books, and the book givers seek out light or non-readers, especially people who may not have access to printed books for reasons of means or geography. Book givers receive 20 free paperback copies of one World Book Night title, not too many to carry but enough to share with a good number of potential new readers.”

Held in the U.K. and Ireland for the first time in 2011, and launched in the U.S. and Germany in 2012, the relatively new program invites an independent panel to select giveaway books that are deemed “accessible books of quality,” whether new or long established, and are easily available in paperback. Any genre is welcome. The full list must reflect gender, ethnic, and geographical balance. Among this year’s selections: My Antonia, published in 1918, the third book in Willa Cather’s classic “prairie trilogy,” from which author Jen Michalski read; The House on Mango Street (1984) by Sandra Cisneros, a poetically concise novel the word power of which fiction writer Kathy Flann said she has never been able to forget; The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan (2005), a gritty nonfiction depiction of the American Dust Bowl, Wednesday night performed by store co-owner Benn Ray with volume and verve; Looking for Alaska by Jon Green (2005), an award-winning YA romance with more twinkling humor and humanity than Twilight any day, read with gusto by Jamie Wat­son, Col­lec­tion Devel­op­ment Coor­di­na­tor for the Bal­ti­more County Pub­lic Library; and Baltimore writer Baynard Woods’s spirited (and amusingly performed) choice, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain (1889), the brilliant and hilarious time-travel satire that could never in a billion centuries go out of style.

“Books can only make people better,” said Michalski as she began her presentation. Word!

Read more here about why these Baltimore brains are drawn to the books they plucked from the list.

Go here to get involved in giving books! Go here to learn more about Moveable Feast and Ride for the Feast, the group’s two-day, 140-mile bike ride for charity.

Baynard Woods reads Mark Twain.
Baynard Woods reads Mark Twain.



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