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Life Lessons Learned Spreading the Love of Reading

Photo Credit: niecyisms
What was the last good book that you have read?  The slow, telling smile was the answer most frequently exchanged.  Climbing the staircase to the second story of the homeless shelter overlooking the Hudson River, my emotions were swirling incessantly within my composed exterior.  Faces that shied from the arrival of strangers peered curiously at the simple array of books displayed with an assortment of herbal teas and lollipops.  World Book Night Book Giver was my intended role, lifelong learner was my reality. 

Pleased at the honor of being selected as a second time Book Giver for World Book Night 2014, the personal vow I made was to participate with greater passion, true to the mission of World Book Night.  Previously, the recipients of last year's book selection, The Alchemist written by celebrated author Paulo Coehlo, were the attendees of our neighboring Senior Day Center and the interaction was unknowingly intercepted.   Appreciative acknowledgements, conversational courtesies and a gentle escort ended my excitement of actively spreading the love of reading from person to person. Disappointed yet undeterred, I vowed to step up my game this time around. 

Bubbling with excitement, apprehension and conviction to my vow to myself, I opened the door to a local homeless shelter here in the Hudson Valley.  With my husband and sons along, we stepped up to the front desk where I introduced myself to Bernard and Ron, neither of whom I could persuade to accept a book, hopefully they reconsidered.  The names, the faces, the stories, the people will remain with me always. I learned life lessons that were mirrored on the pages of the books that I carried, yet spoken in the language and experiences of the author's life. 

Life is unpredictable.

As one of only two World Book Night Book Givers in my area, we decided to collaborate by dividing our books to allow each of us to distribute 10 copies of The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and 10 copies of Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Boudain.   Initial planning for World Book Night never included a visit to a homeless shelter, ironically the same sentiment would certainly be true for everyone of the residents as well.  Our reasons for sharing that place and time may be different but the unpredictability of our destinies the same.  As humans, we need one another.  Be grateful, be kind, be a better you today because the giver will one day too be in need. 

We are not our circumstances. 

Curiosity sometimes is perceived as judgement.  My questioning was harmless, true to my nature, yet in meeting people where they are, the personal defense barriers create chasms in communication.  With an friendly, encouraging nudge from the elected "Outreach Spokesperson" Kenny,  the residents politely came forward to take a look at the books displayed in the common dining area.  Arriving without any preconceived opinions as to the reasons the men and women were standing in need, I soon discovered that the stories come easy and in their own time.  It was clarified by the Veteran resident that he is educated, the young man still mastering English graciously declined the books that were beyond his current reading skills and residents of all ages expressed interest in reading Warren Buffet, TD Jakes, Joel Osteen and general interest empowerment books focusing on self-improvement and spirituality which I plan to collect and donate in the near future.

We must start with baby steps

Baby steps are the foundation of our walk through life. There is no shame or loss of dignity in regaining our stand in life by starting at the beginning.  Preferring to read the daily newspaper as opposed to the pages of a novel are each equally commendable.  It is not the goal of World Book Night to foster feelings of inadequacy to those that are unwilling, unable or simply disinterested in reading, that is an individual's personal preference.  The luxury of reading a book can rekindle the passion of a neglected indulgence that helps to establish the framework for professional education, recreational interests or lifelong learning.  

According to World Book Night,  "Reading for pleasure improves literacy, actively engaging emerging readers in their desire to read. Reading changes lives, improves employability, social interaction, enfranchisement, and can have a positive effect on mental health and happiness. Book readers are more likely to participate in positive activities such as volunteering, attending cultural events, and even physical exercise.1  Or more simply put, books are fun—and they can be life-changing."
"With the passionate volunteer support of thousands of people across the country, World Book Night U.S. is spreading the love of reading, person to person."
 1 “Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America,” National Endowment for the Arts

With that being said, the last good book that I read was actually Kitchen Confidential written by acclaimed Chef and noted author and Travel Channel TV personality.  I was eager to read Kitchen Confidential prior to World Book Night and a longtime fan of Bourdain.  And in return I ask, What was the last good book that you have read?