Sunday, April 22, 2012 | Category: On Writing, Reflections
Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read. — Groucho Marx
My dog, Maxine, always wanted me to start a blog post like that. She’s got quite a sense of humor. But April being National Poetry Month and tonight being World Book Night, I thought this was exactly the right time for it.
World Book Night began in the UK in 2011; this year it has grown to include the U.S. and Ireland. Next year, more countries will be included. Why April 23? Because it’s UNESCO’s World Book Day, chosen to mark both the anniversary of Cervantes’ death as well as Shakespeare’s birth and death. In the Catalan region of Spain, April 23 is celebrated by giving a book and a flower to a loved one. The idea of World Book Night is to spread the love of reading — “person to person.”
As volunteers, we were asked to choose from a list of 30 pre-selected books and agree to distribute 20 free copies to readers (and especially to non-readers) on April 23 and pass on our love for this chosen book. Bookstores got involved to order, box up and distribute boxes of books to us volunteers.
The chosen books include a wide range of subjects and genres, from Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games to Just Kids by Patti Smith and The Stand by Stephen King. The book I selected is The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s absolutely remarkable book about memory, war and the power of story telling. We got three choices, and I got my first choice. I’m excited. I heard Tim read from the manuscript that would become The Things They Carried at The Bread Loaf Writers Conference back in the late 1980s and can attest to its power.
Here’s what the “volunteer’s” press release says:
From Kodiak, Alaska, to Key West, Florida, in 6,000 towns and cities across America, 25,000 volunteers will give away half a million free books on one day: April 23, 2012.
World Book Night U.S. is an ambitious campaign to personally give out thousands of free, specially printed books across America. Volunteer book lovers like myself will help promote reading by going into our communities and handing out free copies of a book we love to new or light readers, reaching them especially in underserved places – and even some fun spots. Volunteers will be picking up the books at a local bookstore or library in order to go out and share them in locations as diverse as VA hospitals, nursing homes, ballparks, mass transit, diners, and more.
I am giving away five copies to friends who have heard me write about the book but have not yet read it themselves. I hear things like, “I would never read a book about Vietnam,” or “I don’t like short stories.” I’m here to show them the error of their ways. The other 15 copies are going to an English classroom in suburban Virginia where many of the students are not financially able to buy books for pleasure.
I’m so happy to be doing this. If you’d like to volunteer for next year’s program, sign up at .
Concurrently, there’s National Poetry Month. Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, National Poetry Month is held every April, when (according to the website) “publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture. Thousands of businesses and non-profit organizations participate through readings, festivals, book displays, workshops, and other events.”
Twenty-five years ago, I bought a poster in New York by the artist Edward Koren celebrating the 75th Anniversary of Poetry, the magazine founded by Harriet Monroe back in 1912. I remember picking it up from the framer and having to negotiate it onto a downtown Fifth Avenue bus one rush hour; I’m stunned that it has made it through all the moves over the years. Well, it’s now 100 years since Monroe founded this little magazine with her belief that “The Open Door will be the policy of this magazine — may the great poet we are looking for never find it shut.” The greats have all published here.
I have been collecting the National Poetry Month posters over the years and delivering workshops and reading poetry wherever anybody will let me. I’ll also be giving away nine copies of the 100th Anniversary issue of Poetry on World Book Night.
April 26 has been designated “Poem in Your Pocket Day” by the Academy. Everyone can participate: Simply select a
poem that you love and carry it with you to share with co-workers, family and friends. And you can also share your poem selection on Twitter by using the hashtag #pocketpoem.
Ideally, poems from your pockets will be unfolded throughout the day — the Academy of American Poets has even published two volumes of poems to tear out of anthologies for just this purpose: the original anthology and the newly published anthology for kids. Please check them out. And if it’s too late for this year, be ready for next year. Teachers, caregivers, office workers, clergy members . . . let’s try to make the world a little more poetic. These days we can use all the help we can get . . .