On April 23rd, the entire humble Friedrich Agency took a car service, loaded down with four cartons of books, to continue our volunteer efforts on behalf of World Book Night. If you don’t know what that is (and you SHOULD know….What are you doing with your time, Dear Reader??) World Book Night is a fabulous annual event held on the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birthday during which book lovers go out into the world, all over the world and distribute free books to light and non-readers.
For us book lovers here at the agency, this was our third year participating, are we GREAT or WHAT??? We went to a library in Jamaica, Queens, right smack in between LaGuardia and Kennedy airports, home to no fewer than ninety-two different ethnic groups of immigrants. Before we even got started, I nearly got killed crossing the street to pick up water at Dunkin Donuts for the team. When we first wanted to set up a table with our lovely banner on the lawn in front of the library, we were told, “Oh, no, the grass is locked up.”
“The grass is locked??!!” What?!?
A long discussion followed about the grass being there to be looked at, not sat upon, not stood upon. This poor neglected garden, ignored by the custodians who were part of a terribly dysfunctional union, sat ignobly beside us as we began to distribute our books.
So anyway, there we all are, giving books away outside the library: “You get to keep the book! There’s no test! How about your Mom, for Mother’s Day, if you write a card, she’d LOVE this book, c’mon, take a book, it’s FREE!!!” And then we encounter this deflated, deeply shy woman. She doesn’t really much want our offerings but she’s curious, she’s game to listen to our over-caffeinated spiel about the importance of World Book Night. (The Bard’s birthday! 500,000 books being given away on this very night, my first trip to Queens, how cool! On and on and on!) She’s a little overwhelmed by our imported energy but she senses our good intentions, our passion, and mildly offers up the tidbit that she’s in charge of the book group at this imperiled library. ($7,000 annual budget, closes every night at 7:00pm, it’s mobbed from 3:00 to 7:00, it’s sacred space, everyone is using this library). I ask her, “When’s the next book group?” She says, “Tomorrow.”
I say, (duh) “Well what book did you assign?” Drum roll…and she says, “It’s a book called The Burgess Boys, by a writer named Elizabeth Strout. Have you heard of her?”
OMG. The poor thing. The primal scream that emerged, full-flung, from The Friedrich Agency–well, I have to say, it was slightly embarrassing. I think she thought we were all a little bit demented. But whatever, it was a fine moment in the world of reading and great writing, and the sun was shining, the wind was blustery and we had a blast.
Report from the heart,
The Gentle Diva