On Monday April 23, to celebrate World Book Night, tens of thousands of volunteers across the USA and UK will give away books - a million copies in the UK and half a million in the USA.
If you're not familiar with World Book Night here's a quick overview:
World Book Night is inspired by the Catalonian Day of the Book. Catalonia (an autonomous region in the north of Spain) has long celebrated April 23 as The Day of the Rose, because it is the day they celebrate their patron saint, Sant Jordi (St George), whose symbol is a rose. Then, back in 1923, an enterprising bookseller started to promote the holiday as The Day of the Book, because it was on that day in 1616 that William Shakespeare and Miguel Cervantes (author of Don Quixote among other classics) both died. Actually, pedantically speaking, while they are both recorded as dying on the same date, due to differences in the calendars (Spain adopted the Julian calendar way ahead of Britain) they actually died a few days apart - but let's not be picky! Garcilaso de la Vega is also recorded as dying on that day so sometimes is included in references to The Day of the Book.
Thus a tradition was born in Catalonia that combines love, literature and reading (photo tour of Sant Jordi's Day). And since then, April 23rd has become recognized as The Day of the Book in a number of other countries.
Inspired by The Day of the Book, Jamie Byng (owner of Canongate, the Scottish publisher that in the 30 years since Byng bought the almost bankrupt company, has brought us a string of wonderful titles including The Life of Pi and the Canongate Myth Series) led the charge to create World Book Night. The UK held the first World Book Night on March 5, 2011. The event, which actually took place throughout a 24 hour period, not just under cover of darkness, saw 20,000 people give away one million copies of 25 specially printed books. It was considered a great success.
For those of an inquiring nature, the reason the event was named World Book Night, not the more logical World Book Day, is that there's already an event called World Book Day in the UK and Ireland, which is celebrated by giving schoolchildren a book token (gift token to be redeemed for books). Unlike World Book Day, World Book Night is targeted firmly at adults with the intent of bringing the love of a good book to reluctant adult readers wherever they can be found.
In 2012, a second event will take place in the UK, but the date has moved to April 23 to coincide with the International Day of the Book, and the USA will be joining in. It's hoped that in future years more countries will take part.
And thus we come to this year's inaugural event in the USA. Next week, on April 23, tens of thousands of givers, each armed with twenty copies of one of the 30 available books, will fan out to distribute the specially-produced books as far and as wide as possible. With more than 2,200 bookstores and libraries across the USA serving as pickup points for givers, and givers intending to spread the books as far and as wide as possible, World Book Night offers a fantastic opportunity to reach reluctant adult readers wherever they maybe found - from prisons to plazas, hospitals to factories, and all points in between.
For more about World Book Night and to register your interest in being involved next year, visit WorldBookNight.org