When was the last time a complete (but friendly, un-scary) stranger walked up to you and gave you a free, best-selling book?
For most people, the answer would be "never."
But for a lucky 2.5 million souls who happened to hit the literary jackpot one year ago during the first "World Book Night," it would be "April 23, 2012."
And on April 23, 2013, William Shakespeare's 449th birthday, an ambitious swarm of East Bay book givers will fan out to repeat the deed in the second annual "World Book Night U.S."
The idea of delivering free books to light- or non-reading people and communities began in 2010 at a U.K. book conference round-table. Authors waived royalties. Publishers paid to produce Book Night editions, and two years later, grass-roots germination caused the movement to circle the globe as 80,000 givers participated.
In the Bay Area, the 30 book titles chosen by a panel of booksellers and librarians land in the hands of people with limited access, income or mobility: prisons, hospitals, senior communities, rural and urban neighborhoods without public libraries and more.
The distribution effort is anything but indiscriminate. Givers must meet Book Night criteria and complete an application for the 20 copies they will personally hand out. In addition to meeting age and other requirements, givers must describe the particular community they intend to reach and explain why the title they chose is especially relevant.
Even after being accepted by the review panel, the organization and participating booksellers work with givers to insure an authentic but accurately-targeted delivery. Book Night organizers want books to go to readers-in-need, not voracious book consumers.
In the East Bay, local booksellers jump on the Book Night "bookwagon" with flair and efficiency. At Danville's Rakestraw Books, owner Michael Barnard and his staff get the party rolling a week ahead of time. A pickup gathering night Tuesday will set the stage, with givers sharing stories and coordinating group delivery plans.
"We have about 65 volunteers signed up," Barnard said.
Last year, Rakestraw's 50 givers distributed books at locations such as Santa Rita Jail and the Dublin BART station.
"Prisoners appreciate having books," Barnard said, "and Afghanistan natives who are taxi drivers at the BART were a good match up for (Khaled Hosseini's) 'The Kite Runner.'"
Michael Lewis' "Moneyball" is on the 2013 list, and for that reason Marion Abbott's Berkeley book store, Mrs. Dalloway's, is hosting Lewis at 3:30 p.m. April 22. He'll give the 23 givers a pep talk, Abbott said, extending the "immeasurable good will" that last year's efforts earned.
Abbott and her daughter handed out two cartons of books in 10 minutes at the entrance to Alta Bates Hospital in 2012. Emergency medical technicians with long down times between emergencies were the most enthusiastic recipients, she recalled.
In Walnut Creek, Barnes & Nobles on South Main Street serves as the area's distribution center. Kathie Cima, the company's community relations manager, wrote in an email that the store's role is to facilitate Book Night, but special events are not planned. Still, the "reach out" effort causes Cima to bust out of corporate-speak and write ("A love of reading will follow you through life") and refer to reading ability as "boundless."
Towne Center Books in Pleasanton saw participation jump from last year's six givers to 20.
"We distributed to the Veterans Hospital in Livermore, the ACE train station for commuters, a foster care location for teenagers, and as a random act of kindness to checkers at various locations," remembers owner Judy Wheeler.
Wheeler's first-time experience taught her the power of peer persuasion when a commuter at the ACE train station said, "That's a good book," about her selection. Suddenly swarmed by curious people, she had visions of futuristic, impromptu book club happenings. Perhaps for that reason, a daylong book swap celebration at the store will coincide with the April 23 giveaway.
Co-chairs for the 2013 effort are bestselling authors James Patterson and Ann Patchett. People interested in applying to be givers next year should go to www.us.worldbooknight.org.