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Islanders spread the words they cherish

Katie Butler meets a lounging coffee drinker on Madrone Lane and presents him with a copy of “Peace Like a River” and “The Glass Castle” for World Book Night.  - Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review
Katie Butler meets a lounging coffee drinker on Madrone Lane and presents him with a copy of “Peace Like a River” and “The Glass Castle” for World Book Night.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

What is better than a good book? A free good book.

More than 300 books recently flooded Bainbridge Island as ardent readers took to the streets, handing out free copies of popular titles in honor of World Book Night.

World Book Night is an annual event where volunteers in approximately

6,000 communities throughout the United States distribute half a million free books in one day.

On April 23, 15 enthusiastic islanders handed out copies of their favorite books around town.

Katie Butler was one such islander. Butler handed out 20 copies each of “Peace Like a River” by Leif Enger and “The Glass Castle” by Jeannette Walls.

A total of 30 book titles were available to give away and provided by the World Book Night organization. And when Butler saw the list, she jumped at the opportunity to hand out two of her favorites.

“We had to write an essay on why you would want to give away the particular book you chose and what it meant to you,” Butler said.

Volunteers were encouraged to seek out people who may not be commonly exposed to books and encourage them to experience the stimulation and enjoyment that reading can uniquely provide.

“We love books and we love to share books here, but we know there are people who never set foot in a book store,” said Victoria Irwin, bookseller at Eagle Harbor Books.

“Anything we can do to get people who also love books to go out and talk enthusiastically and hand out a book — you can’t find a better way to ignite a spark in someone who hasn’t been a big reader,” she said.

The local independent book store was a distribution center for the give-away event, serving as a home base for the volunteers to pick up books and organize.

Before handing out her treasured stories, Butler sat down with each book and wrote a personal message inside the cover explaining why the book was important to her.

“I love the books so much and I want to share them,” Butler said. “They are great stories I know that if you read them you are going to love it.”

Volunteers brought their books to nursing homes, the ferry and even local literature classes.

“Everybody loves to get a book,” said Jeff Wenker, who handed out copies of “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot.

“The trick is to find people who don’t normally spend a lot of time reading.”

Butler decided to hit the streets downtown, stopping passersby and distributing the books she is so fond of.

“I don’t have to say ‘Read it’ and hope that they will buy it,” Butler said. “I can now say ‘Read it, here it is,’ no excuses.”

Though she was somewhat intimidated by the challenge, Butler bravely approached strangers on the street. She was generally greeted with a wary smile — a smile that grew brighter once people discovered that the books were free.

The free books raised a few eyebrows and Butler took her time engaging in conversation, explaining the stories, and generating enthusiasm to read them.

After the volunteers completed their book-giving tasks for the day, Eagle Harbor Books hosted a meet-and-greet with island authors such as local chef Greg Atkinson, and Rebecca Wells, author of “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.”

This was the second year of World Book Night. It began in 2011 in the United Kingdom and its fervor spread to the United States and Germany this year. It is now organized primarily through social media.

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