I chose Michael Perry's Population: 485 as the title I'd distribute for World Book Night*. I thought his tales of small town life, quirky characters and sense of humor would appeal to the potential readers I approached today at the local soup kitchen.
On my way into town with the books, I came upon a fellow with a cane I'd often seen walking along Monument Road. Since he was heading my way, with his back to traffic, I pulled over to offer him a ride. His brown hair fell well past his shoulders and he moved toward me with an unsteady step. I figured he didn't get many offers.
Turned out he didn't want a ride. He was walking as rehab from back surgery, though he said it wasn't working too well. Sometimes he did go to town, but this trip was an out and back to the mountain bike trailhead about a mile down the road. His name was Herb, he said, and he rented a room in the house up the road, which looks like the sort of place for folks who are recovering from one thing or another. He was wearing a jacket from the West Elk Mine, a coal operation owned by billionaire Bill Koch.
My first customer.
The second was the guy at the recycling center where I unloaded a mass of cardboard, cans and beer bottles. He listened to my pitch, then said, "I'll take it for my wife. She's the reader."
Who knows, he may pick it up himself if his wife starts reading him selections like this:
The Beagle has other problems. Both his ex-wives work at the only gas and convenience store in town. So he's gotten to where he avoids the Gas-N-Go. Drives to Bloomer for his morning gas and coffee. Sometimes he'll send his new girlfriend in to get him a can of chew. The ex's have been known to give her the evil eye, and sometimes they slap down the Kodiak a little sharply. "They don't like it," says the Beagle, "but they know my brand!" Big guffaw.
There's something every couple can chew on in that passage.
I parked next to the Catholic Outreach building and found a couple guys I know from the day center hanging out.
Roger has visited Wisconsin and Minnesota in his travels and said he was up for a book about life in the midwest.
"I was in jail for three days and was part way through a book set in Minnesota, but they wouldn't let me take it when I left," he said.
The giveaway is aimed at infrequent readers, and I suppose interrupted ones qualify, too.
I worked down the line outside the soup kitchen and got a lot of takers and a few polite refusals. I know from my time in the day center there are some avid readers on the street but some aren't very literate. (Last week, I confirmed the spelling of get and next for a texting guest.)
Paco turned me down. He reads, he says, but needs large print editions. Another man took a copy once he confirmed I wasn't handing out religious tracts. The two women in the photo above each took a copy.
After lunch I headed back to the parking lot and spied a man with a backpack and bedroll hugging the corner of the fence enacting the international sign for I couldn't hold it any more. I couldn't see his face when he turned around, but I recognized what he was slipping into a pocket of his pack.
* World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people go out into their communities and give half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers.
World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging reading in those who don’t regularly do so. But it is also about more than that: It’s about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways—through the sharing of stories.