Mara Luther realizes that it might seem strange to hear a bookstore owner waxing excitedly about giving away free books.
But Luther, who along with her husband co-owns Chapter One Book Store in Hamilton, admits she just gets giddy at the prospect of seeing hundreds of books given away in the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys in a single day.
“Most book sellers are book lovers at heart, who have to figure out how to be salespeople to feed their passion,” said Luther. “This is a great way to focus solely on the books and not have to worry about making a bottom line.”
Luther was speaking about World Book Night, a transcontinental event that takes place on Monday. In more than 6,000 towns in North America as well as across Germany and the United Kingdom, volunteers will fan out in their communities and give away more than a half-million books, selected from a short list of titles made available for free through a broad network of bookstores and libraries.
Barbara Theroux, of Missoula’s Fact & Fiction Downtown bookstore, said the project caught her attention for a simple reason.
“I love to share the joy of reading, and that’s what this is all about,” she said. “It’s to get people back to sharing books, talking about books. So that really appealed to me.”
In advance of Monday’s free-for-all, Theroux signed up more than a dozen “givers,” who were allowed to select a preferred title from a list of 30 books. Those books, printed in special editions specifically for World Book Night, were shipped to the store, where givers picked them up in recent days.
On Monday, those givers will visit locations including schools, the downtown bus transfer station, Watson Children’s Shelter and elsewhere to pass out the tomes.
Down in the Bitterroot, Chapter One managed to sign up 45 givers – making Hamilton one of the top 10 cities in America in terms of per-capita participation, said Luther.
“I think the success of this event is really due to the fact that people who choose to live where we live hold certain things dear, and among those things are reading and education and sharing,” she said.
“When you live in a small town, you sometimes get disappointed because politicians aren’t doing what you think they should. But then something like this happens and we realize we really do have fabulous neighbors – they’re just not necessarily the loud ones.”
Titles to be given out include Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games,” Stephen King’s “The Stand,” Patti Smith’s “Just Kids,” Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and more than two dozen others in genres from science fiction to young adult to humor. The overall group of titles was selected by a national panel of book publishers organized by Carl Lennertz, one of the publishing world’s most recognized and respected figures.
Locally, Theroux said that the most popular selection among her givers was Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”
“I think people really got excited about being able to pick their own book to give out,” she said. “That’s really a big part of the inspiration, is giving people the opportunity to hand out a book that they’re personally excited about and that they can tell people about.”
Reporter Joe Nickell can be reached at 523-5358 or at email@example.com.