April 23: William Shakespeare’s birthday and the celebration of World Book Night. This event is held in over 6,200 cities and towns all over the world. Nearly 25,000 people volunteer to give away half a million books chosen from a roster determined by an independent panel of booksellers and librarians.
Authors, agents, and publishers of the officially chosen books revoke their royalties to enable—and support—a large amount of World Book Night paperback editions to be printed completely free of charge. These specially printed editions target light to non-readers in an effort to share popular literature, but also to fight illiteracy among children and teens.
World Book Night’s influence even has a presence in our local community. Not even a mile away from our campus, faculty, staff and students of Yuba College, as well as community members of Yuba-Sutter county, visited The Eating Well Cafe to partake in our own little World Book Night celebration.
The Eating Well Cafe is an establishment that prides itself on offering low-cost meals that are healthy, yet delicious. For the past three years, World Book Night has been organized at this location, at the behest of Yuba College librarian Elena Heilman and sociology professor Marc Flacks.
I asked Flacks why World Book Night took place at the cafe instead of Yuba College’s library, to which he responded, “We were trying to make it accessible to the non-reading public. […] an academic library may be intimidating to some people […] our goal is to forge connections between the college and the community. Also, no food or drink in the library!”
Roughly 70 people were jam packed within the little bistro, and books were spilling over countertops and tables, some even finding their way to the floor and under chairs. Children rummaged through the piles, no doubt looking for books with silly titles and colourful illustrations, while their parents or guardians snacked on sandwiches and drank tea.
Kelly Cunningham, Sam Provenzano, Lisa Shepard, Jodi Hernandez, and Traci Johnson were among book givers that delivered presentations featuring their book of choice. Cunningham, a self-proclaimed “literature nerd,” presented, “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World,” by Michael Pollan.
“What drew me to the book was the word ‘desire’ in the title,” Cunningham shared with the crowd with a smile.”The book features four case studies of plants we use all the time… most cultures are familiar with them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato.” Cunningham continued, “The apple represents the desire for sweetness, the tulip: beauty; marijuana: intoxication and the potato for the desire of control. It shines a light on our connection to nature or a lack thereof.”
Provenzano, an English professor at Yuba College, was the next to present. He shared his fondness of the novel, “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet,” by Jamie Ford. He read one of his favourite passages from the novel, offering a heartfelt delivery, exemplifying the aesthetics of cool jazz much like the novel itself.
Lisa Shepherd then took control of the floor. She was once a student at Yuba College and took first place in an essay contest back in 2012 with her submission of “Cerebral Sanctuary.” Her book of choice to praise was, “Kitchen Confidential,” by Anthony Bourdain. “Bourdain is funny, witty and will tell you things you’d never thought of about the restaurant business—like never eat fish on Monday.”
Next up, Jodi Hernandez, introduced by Flacks as a “volunteer extraordinaire,” due to her nearly omniscient presence in the Yuba-Sutter community, presented the book, “100 Best-Loved Poems.” Hernandez recited “To My Last Duchess,” by Robert Browning. “Reading is my escape,” says Hernandez. “Reading brought me to a better place and it is better to be in a place of fantasy.”
The last in line to share a special book, Traci Johnson presented, “Code Name Verity.” “It’s out of my element,” she said. “It’s a spy novel that takes place in World War II [and] is about a girl captured by the Gestapo. It’s not the genre I usually read, which is fantasy or sci-fi.”
Closing the ceremony, Flacks touched upon an idea within early childhood education: that reading to your children at an early age makes them more successful in life. The sociology professor remarked that children will do better in school and develop stronger speech skills than a child who did not have a head start with early experience.
World Book Night’s date of April 23 symbolises many things, from Shakespeare to Cervantes to an International Day of Books. However, more important is the days’ service to kids.
Note: This article was featured in The Prospector 2014 Summer edition.