I came across the title above, “The Worst Hard Time,” while sorting used book donations at the local library. The cover looked strange, a white border around a shrunken cover image. What kind of book looks like that?
I studied the book briefly and noticed the “World Book Night U.S. 2013” at the bottom of the front cover. The back cover, also on a nondescript white background, listed “The World Book Night U.S. titles for 2013,” with a list of titles that ranged from Mark Twain to Tina Fey. My volunteer co-workers, were equally perplexed by the unusual book cover, so I volunteered to research the mystery.
It turns out that “World Book Night” is held every year on April 23rd. The web page of the World Book Night organization describes their mission as follows:
Each year, 30- 35 books are chosen by an independent panel of librarians and booksellers. The authors of the books waive their royalties and the publishers agree to pay the costs of producing the specially-printed World Book Night U.S. editions. Bookstores and libraries sign up to be community host locations for the volunteer book givers.
After the book titles are announced, members of the public apply to personally hand out 20 copies of a particular title in their community. World Book Night U.S. vets the applications, and the givers are chosen based on their ability to reach light and non-readers. The selected givers choose a local participating bookstore or library from which to pick up the 20 copies of their book, and World Book Night U.S. delivers the books to these host locations.
Givers pick up their books in the week before World Book Night. On April 23rd, they give their books to those who don’t regularly read and/or people who don’t normally have access to printed books, for reasons of means or geography.
The list of participating publishers includes a venerable who’s who in the publishing industry. The organization itself is registered as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. The chosen books range from classics to modern-day bestsellers, so the publishers are definitely not holding back. The 2014 picks contains yet another impressive array of authors and titles.
I can’t say that I’m exactly a target for the World Book Night give-away, as I am reading all the time and have ready access to books. However, after reading “The Worst Hard Time,” a National Book Award winner, I sure am glad that the title crossed my path in the library sorting room. It was one of the best-researched books I have ever read, and I now know a lot more about the Oklahoma and Texas pan-handles during the Great Depression than I had ever imagined. Somewhere, there’s a volunteer from the World Book Night who is smiling.