Global Pay It Forward: Shakespeare’s birthday and free books!

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Pay It Forward Day
Website of World Book Night US

Click on this snapshot of the World book Night US front page to visit that website and learn more about the program.

SHAKESPEARE would turn 450 this week, although the exact date isn’t known. Historians do know that he was baptized on April 26 so his birthday traditionally is backed up to April 23 to coincide with St. George’s Day, thus honoring England’s patron saint and greatest poet together.

You can read more about worldwide celebrations in The Telegraph, which reports: “Shakespeare has become a global icon, not merely a local heritage product whose presumed birthday conveniently coincides with St George’s Day.” (Word of warning: If you love Shakespeare and visit The Telegraph, you’ll be gone a while—the newspaper offers lots of extra links including fun facts like the names of Shakespeare’s twins: Hamnet and Judith.)

In keeping with our theme this week—paying it forward—the bard’s birthday also is UNESCO’s International Day of the Book. What could be a better way to celebrate than paying it forward—with free books?

That’s exactly what happens today with World Book Night US. This is an annual celebration—always held on the bard’s birthday—“dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person.” About 25,000 people go into their communities and give over 500,000 books to “light and non-readers”—people who don’t regularly read because of lack of means or other constraints.

The books are selected and printed by the World Book Night organization, a nonprofit that started in the UK in 2011. It came to the US in 2012. Authors waive their royalties and their publishers pay for the costs of the World Book Night editions. The books are free for volunteers who sign up on the organization’s web site. These editions cannot be sold. They are meant to be given away freely. Each volunteer gets 20 books to give away.

An independent panel makes each year’s selections. The 2014 book list includes about three dozen books that cover the literary waterfront. For example, the list includes The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman, Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, After the Funeral by Agatha Christie, The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean, Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers, When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago, and 100 Best-Loved Poems edited by Philip Smith.

What do you think of World Book Night?

Have you participated?

Have you ever given the gift of reading—or been the recipient of the gift?

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