Apr 24, 2013

My Night as a Street Preacher

Yesterday evening on a street corner in Lebanon, NH, I handed out 19 free copies of Good Omens to passers-by and kept one for myself. The last one was plonked at 10 pm in the bed of a parked pickup truck, while the cold whistled through my invigorated veins and I pondered how I was going to get home. I was purposeful, actualized, filled with holy fire, a book evangelist for World Book Night 2013.

It was a cause that needed all the help it could get -- this is only the second year that World Book Night has been happening in the U.S.. The venture began in England, spread to Ireland, and now has leeched across the Atlantic to us. Last year at a perfectly ordinary ice-cream stand on April 23rd, a blonde woman in a polo shirt asked me if I wanted a free copy of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and I didn't even wait for her to finish her sentence before grabbing it. What a revelation, to find that I was not alone in loving books so much as to actually physically foist them on strangers. The idea enchanted me... which is how I ended up standing on gray sidewalks for two hours sidling up to people and trying not to look like the fanatic that I was.

As expected, I got a lot of bemused and wary responses from people. There were a few simple "yes"es, smilingly folding the book into their side as they walked along, which was good enough for me. There was a sweet old man with a yellow pointed mustache and yellow, bashed-in fingernails who was wonderfully receptive and said that he would walk around trying to spread the word. I hung out with a legless truck driver with blue eyes and three chins for about half an hour. We talked off and on while he pivoted around me in his wheelchair, sometimes angling it outwards to talk to people walking by. He didn't want a book, even though I kept trying to offer him one, saying how full his brain already was from the crossword puzzles he has on his computer at home -- 14,000 and he's on number 1,741.

One man took one look at the book I was holding out to him...

... and said that he was a follower of Jesus Christ and probably wouldn't find it so funny.
I recounted this to another guy who came out of Salt hill Pub for a smoke and rolled up his free copy to stick in his jacket pocket. He waved his hand saying, "Just take it. It's a book. No harm ever came from a book. ..Well," he started to correct himself, but took another drag as I peered down the street to watch for more people to accost. 

It's surprisingly hard to get people to take a free book. My tagline for Good Omens was, "It's about the Apocalypse, but it's really funny" (which is basically lifted from a blurb on the front but is still the best way to sum up the book.) I really did start feeling like a religious zealot, an overly earnest missionary prodding at strangers on the street to recruit them to my cause. Being a World Book Night book-giver was a boundary-pushing experience, but so thrilling for me. I know that I feel passionate about sharing books with people and that seems like a good enough reason to run with the idea (into the street... waving my little flag...)

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