Matt: World Book Night was sort of… magical. I know that sounds lame but honestly for the first time I understood what people mean when they say that books are magic. We were at a free-meal cafeteria full of hungry, homeless people, and our table full of books was much more intriguing to them than the food line. I was a bit skeptical and maybe even cynical at first. What were these homeless people going to do with books? I guess I thought that for someone who doesn’t have a lot, what difference is a book going to make? Why would they care about getting something that has no possibility of improving their situation?
Chris: Magical is a good way to explain it. So many things I didn't expect. I take a group to The Bridge cafeteria, a non-profit soup kitchen for the economically depressed in downtown St. Louis, once a month on the third Wednesday. It's a great place to serve, but it is work. I was expecting this night to feel like work. I was also expecting to watch hungry people behave the same around books that they do around food: a few thankful people, but mostly tired, care-worn stares.
Matt: I see now that was pretty short-sighted. I mean let’s face it, people like to get stuff. I think it was more than that though. Most of the people that walked by our table not only wanted one of the books, they wanted to know what it was about! Most of the night was actually spent vaguely explaining the plot to each visitor (none of us had read all three). And people listened to every detail. They made decisions based on what we told them.
Chris: Their excitement was palpable. The place was transformed during those conversations. It was a dark cave still, but a light shone out of their eyes. Was it a thirst for knowledge? Thirst for 'something else'? Thirst for a connection to us, or the author, or for a peak out of their situations into a wider world of hope? The words of Henry Ward Beecher rung deep within me during those moments: "Books are the windows through which the soul looks out."
Matt: Many of them became excited about the prospect of winning one of these books. As they walked to their seats, their longing gaze could be clearly interpreted: they were going to find a sticker! I think the whole night was a success. We lived up to the expectations of World Book Night by getting books to people who probably don’t read all that much. And we exceeded the expectations by getting them excited in the books. Not having enough to give to everyone made our books special prizes.
Chris: Because we only had 60 books (20 of each bestselling title: The Book Thief, A Prayer For Own Meany, and Blood Work) for 200 people, we talked to the directors of the Bridge and came up with a plan to make it a game. We brought 250 pieces of candy and small packs of gum, placed a winning sticker on 60 of them, and handed them out to guests as they passed through the food line. Only about 20 stickers were claimed, and the rest of the books were given out to anyone who came to the table and wanted one.
Matt: These people were accustomed to being treated the same as everyone else who came to the cafeteria. Each person gets the same portions, the same meal on their tray. We made quite a few people feel like they were getting something special, something that not everyone got that night. Sure there were a bunch that didn’t get anything, but since people shared stickers and books, I think just about everyone who really wanted a book got one. It felt pretty cool being a Book Giver. I felt really generous and was happy to see the appreciation on everyone’s faces, even though the books were not mine and didn’t cost anything. Overall, it was a great experience and I am officially a fan of World Book Night.