World Book Night was a lot of fun last year. I hit two iconic bars in Superior, Wisconsin, the hard-scrabble, blue-collar town across the St. Louis River from Duluth, Minnesota, where I gave away 20 copies of A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. This year, I decided to go outside of my comfort zone again, drive over the bridge to Superior, and give away copies of Population: 485 by Michael Perry, who writes books about his life and times in a small town in the Wisconsin north woods. There’s also, for me, one degree of separation between Perry and me: his cousin, Penny Perry, a native of Wisconsin who now lives in Duluth, is a friend of mine. I felt like this gave me instant street cred.
Things didn’t start so auspiciously: I dropped a book in a puddle even before I left Duluth. But once I got to Superior, it picked up – I ended giving away all 19 copies in less than 30 minutes, minus driving time.
I started off at about 5 pm at the Red Mug Café, a hole-in-the-wall not far from the bridge between Minnesota and Wisconsin. I approached a table of four middle-aged women, enjoying each other over cups of coffee. “Happy World Book Night!” I exclaimed, explaining that on April 23 each year, volunteers “all over the country like myself” give away books to strangers. Holding up Population: 485, I said, “Michael Perry writes about small-town life in northern Wisconsin. Can you relate to that, or what?” The women were very kind, and all four of them took a book and graciously thanked me. Emboldened, I walked around the café and handed out books to a woman slurping a bowl of soup; a middle-aged man on his iPhone, who was initially reluctant, but said, “Well, I am flying to Chicago; I do need something to read on the plane;” and to a young man at the counter, who high-fived me after I handed him a book and told him, “Books rock! Reading rocks!” Continue reading