Hi res WBN logo 2013

“Free book!  Get a free book for World Book Night!”

The Hubs and I were standing at the entrance of the train station, the Beast tied to a nearby bench. As the commuters exited the underground, they were greeted by Hubs’s friendly smile.

“Want a free book for World Book Night?” I called out, my face looking down on my smartphone as I tweeted our coordinates. (hashtag–WorldBookNight).

The crowd did what almost everyone in the city does: avoid eye contact with the crazy, shouting lady.

Last Tuesday was World Book Night, a global event where people spread the joy of reading by giving out books to anyone who could, should, and would read a book. This year’s selections in the U.S. ranged from the Ray Bradbury classic Fahrenheit 451 to Tina Fey’s hilarious Bossypants to the beautiful and poignant The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

Hubs is passionate about reading. And he’s even more enthusiastic about getting kids to read. On the very first World Book Night in 2012, he chose to hand out The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, a critically acclaimed YA-crossover tale set during the Holocaust and narrated by Death. He walked the Beast down to the local library and stood outside the entrance offering free books to the kids coming in and out. Soon, my phone rang.  “Can you come down to the library to meet me?  I look like a pervert just standing around by myself and asking kids if they want a free book.”

This year, I was recruited outright, and Hubs chose The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. This fifty-year-old classic tells the story Milo and Tock, a literal watchdog (who looks awfully familiar), and the magical tollbooth that transports them into a fantasy world. Everyone who has ever read this book has loved it. [Camille note: Okay, I’ll admit, I’ve never read this entire book, but, as a child, I did read the very last page very time I stayed overnight at my grandparents’—my grandmother kept a copy on her nightstand for my cousin and me.  I won’t spoil the end, but the words are as meaningful to me now as they were to me then.

phantomtollbooth-cover

Hubs, Beast, and I headed to the train station plaza to hand out twenty books and share the love of reading. “Free books!” the Hubs called out. He is what you’d call the “strong, silent type.” And his voice doesn’t get much above a normal conversational level. If he’s ever yelled—at me or anyone—I wouldn’t know it. I, on the other hand, have a voice that can be heard in the next county. I’m not kidding. It’s a talent I discovered in 6th Grade when I had to get the attention of my lunchtime peers for an important announcement about “Clash Day,” an upcoming day the 6th Grade students were all supposed to wear clashing clothes. (Have you ever tried quieting a lunchroom of hyper-active eleven-year-olds? It’s no easy feat, especially when you are eleven.) My “HEY!” instantly cut through the din and I knew I’d found my superpower.

“FREE BOOKS!!” I boomed. A few startled heads popped up before focusing back down at the pavement. It’s not uncommon these days to be greeted off the subway by pollsters for the upcoming town mayoral election or church-folk praying for your soul, so the dodge was understandable. But these were free books! Who passes up a free book? Turns out, a lot of people. It’s official: We’re jaded.

Keep in mind, we happily and greedily gobble up all the all the crab dip samples they’ll allow at Costco. But few freebies come without strings attached these days. Once, a friend offered to give me a makeover. Before I knew it, I’d bought over a hundred dollars of products and signed up to become a “consultant” for a well-known multi-level-marketing makeup company. I’m not alone. Everyone has a “once bitten, twice shy” tale.

But here, in my husband’s hand, was a book.  And it was free. The only requirement was that you read it, expand your world, open your mind, enjoy it, or pass it on.  That’s it. Kids got it. As soon as Hubs said, “It’s yours. Keep it,” their eyes lit up. That’s always my favorite part of World Book Night.

Maybe there is no such thing as a free lunch, but if you look closely (or even just look up), you might see that not everything comes with a dollar value. When was the last time you got something without strings attached? When was the last time you gave something for nothing?

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