World Book Night hits Berkeley with free books

Nathan Embretson holds a box for World Book Night at Pegasus Books in Berkeley. The event aims to spread literacy among nonreaders.
Pegasus Bookstore/Courtesy
Nathan Embretson holds a box for World Book Night at Pegasus Books in Berkeley. The event aims to spread literacy among nonreaders.

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Next Tuesday, book lovers from around the country will join hands for a cause that gives away free books to those in need.

World Book Night is an event that aims to spread literacy and a love for reading by giving free books to nonreaders or to people who have limited access to libraries. This is the second year the event will be held in the United States, marking the birthday of William Shakespeare on April 23. In the East Bay, a number of Berkeley bookstores are gearing up for the event, including Moe’s Books, Mrs. Dalloway’s and Pegasus Books.

“We want people to read a book (and) engage in conversation,” said Carl Lennertz, an executive director of World Book Night in the United States. “It’s a very focused, targeted campaign focused in communities.”

For those involved, World Book Night is a way to share and spread a love of literature while helping a number of local communities.

“The purpose is to get books into the hands of people who are light readers, to have a conversation with someone who’s read the book and get excited,” said Ann Leyhe, co-owner of Mrs. Dalloway’s bookstore.

An independent panel of booksellers and librarians selected 32 books. The books’ target audience is adult and teenage readers, an age group lacking in literacy programs, according to Lennertz. Titles include popular novels like “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Lightning Thief” and “Bossypants.”

The East Bay is ranked No. 6 among regions in the country for greatest number of event volunteers. Volunteers from across the country, called “givers,” applied starting last November. They will choose one of the 32 books and a location for distribution. Locations include the BART station, prisons, parks, food banks and nursery homes. The givers will pick up their 20 free, not-for-resale book copies at a nearby bookstore, library or other pickup spot.

“These volunteers are so passionate and wonderful and enthusiastic about the chance to share their love of reading with someone else,” Lennertz said.

Some Berkeley bookstores will have special events, including a talk by an author of one of the selected books. Michael Lewis, author of “Moneyball,” will talk about the importance of reading, Leyhe said.

Some bookstores have held events to bring the volunteers together. Moe’s is giving away $10 gift certificates to participants, and this week, Diesel Bookstore in Oakland had a party with pie and cider for volunteers picking up their 20 books.

The hope is that as World Book Night happens each year, more and more people will know about the event and be able to sign up early on.

“It’s gaining momentum,” said Gina Lewis-Lee, promotions manager at Pegasus Books. “We do expect it will be even larger next year.”

Contact Tara Hurley at [email protected].