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Literary Traveler was excited to take part in World Book Night – an annual event that boasts bookish “givers” hitting the streets to share literature with light and non-readers. Its mission is to spread the literary love far and wide, promoting reading in adults throughout the world. 2012 saw nearly 80,000 people in four countries giving out a total of over 2.5 million free books. This year, the United States alone had 25,000 givers across the country spreading literary love to their individual communities.
It started in the UK in 2011 and expanded to the US last year. Publishers print the books for free and authors forgo royalties to produce the paperback copies that will make their way into the hands of lucky individuals. Book titles range from classic literary works, to young adult novels, to non-fiction and memoir – providing something for every taste.
We were tempted by many of the 30 titles chosen by a panel of librarians and booksellers, but finally decided on Willa Cather’s classic My Antonia. We began our World Book Night journey with twenty copies of the book and ventured out into a pleasant, but overcast afternoon in Davis Square, Somerville, a short jaunt from our Literary Traveler offices.
The Davis Square MBTA station was ripe with passersby, but it seemed many of them were on a mission to make a train. While we think a good book would make waiting an extra ten minutes for the next train an even trade, we felt a little intimidated by some of the fast moving commuters. We spoke with a few people loitering outside the station, offering up copies of the Cather classic. Some were hesitant to take them, raising an eyebrow at us, as if to ask, “What’s the catch?” Once we explained the concept of World Book Night, they were happy to take a copy of the book. We also stopped and chatted with the amiable gentleman giving out copies of the Metro newspaper. Even he, giving out free goods himself, was skeptical of taking the free paperback.
We thought we had found success as we tried to give books to a friendly looking pair entering the station as we exited, but it was a WBN duel and we all drew simultaneously, laughing at the realization that we had come upon two more WBN givers. As much as we wished we could take the copy of The Lightning Thief that they were offering, we unfortunately did not fit the “light reader” demographic.
Our next stop was Johnny D’s in Davis Square. It is a local music joint with a friendly staff, a homey, comfortable vibe and, of course, great tunes. We chatted with the staff as they set up for the dinner shift, giving out a couple copies in the process. They loved the idea of World Book Night, and were happy to talk with us about books and the mission of WBN.
We also had the pleasure of speaking with a few patrons, most notably a spitfire named Betty, who claimed her good health in her ripe old age was due to a lifetime of swimming. (We took mental notes on this one!) Betty, upon seeing the Willa Cather freebie exclaimed “She’s famous, I’ve heard of this. It’s a classic.” She assured us that although this was the first paperback she’s had in a while-- she sticks to audio books mostly these days--that she could still read perfectly well. This woman had an incredibly vibrant spirit, which reminded us a lot of Antonia. A woman nearby, noticing our exchange with Betty, asked hesitantly, “Oh, are you giving out books?” Gleeful that someone was excited about this project enough to initiate conversation with us, we happily headed her way with a fresh copy in hand. A North Dakota native, our new acquaintance said that she had always wanted to read My Antonia. This alone made World Book Night a success for us.
Our last stop of the evening found us venturing to Sunset Grill & Tap in Allston, MA. With ten copies of My Antonia to go, we were on a mission. With 112 taps and 380 bottled microbrews and imports, Sunset Grill & Tap is renowned for its beer selection. While we enjoy the variety that they offer, we had our bibliophilic hearts set on one in particular: Dogfish Head Brewery’s hard-to-find brew, My Antonia. Named for the Cather novel, we had to try this rarity in honor of our World Book Night selection and see if it lived up to its namesake.
You see, My Antonia, the beer, is what is called an Imperial Pilsner. The term “Imperial” originally referred to the Russian Imperial Stout. Exported from England, this double or triple hopped libation was said to be highly popular with the Russian Imperial Court. Like so many other things, the term has been adopted and Americanized and now its use generally indicates that the hops and malts in a given brew are doubled or tripled, and it will be a significantly stronger beer. The name “Pilsner” comes from the city Pilsen, located in the western part of Bohemia, a large region of the Czech Republic.
“Aha!,” we thought. So that’s where the name comes from! Antonia, Willa Cather’s character, comes to America as an immigrant from Bohemia. It could be coincidence that the Dogfish Head Pilsner is an Imperial version, but we like to think it had a little something to do with the character’s bold, enduring spirit.
We toasted to My Antonia with a gentleman named Dave, who said he enjoyed reading classics, and the three of us were quickly won over by Antonia’s smooth, hoppy flavor with hints of citrusy sweetness and a bitter finish.
After giving our last copies to a few patrons and servers, we fittingly ended the day with one last toast to Cather’s classic, in hopes that the twenty copies we put out into the world today are well read, much loved, and passed along for other readers to do enjoy. Until World Book Night 2014!
*Were you a World Book Night "Giver" this year? Tell us about your experience in the comments section.
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