BERKELEY -- For book lovers, few things surpass the pleasure of reading. But on the annual World Book Night -- April 23 -- tens of thousands of readers in the United States will forego their passion and engage in an orgy of giving. Armed with half a million paperback copies of 35 best-selling author's books and aiming their distribution at communities with light or non-readers, a torrent of literature, powered by humans, will be released to dispense free books.
A conversation with authors Michael Pollan and Frances Dinkelspiel at 7:30 p.m. April 22 at Mrs. Dalloway's, 2904 College Ave., will kick off the event locally.
Pollan's "The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World" (Random House, 2002) is one of the books selected by the independent panel of booksellers and librarians for nonprofit organization World Book Night U.S.
Dinkelspiel is the author of "Towers of Gold" (St. Martins Press, 2008) and is co-founder and editor of online news outlet Berkeleyside.
Dinkelspiel says she loves giving books. Although she hasn't participated as one of WBN's elite givers (registration happens in the fall and fills up fast; sign up for the newsletter to get an alert about WBN 2015, at the "Get involved" tab at www.us.worldbooknight.org), she says, "Discourse about books is a major part of my life."
The best books are recommended, according to Dinkelspiel, who wrote "Ghost Town," a literary blog all about reading, for five years.
In a 2013 San Francisco Chronicle article, she named a book recommended and "purloined" from a long-ago, summer camp friend -- Richard Powell's "Whom the Gods Would Destroy" -- as her favorite.
"I loved the book as much as she did, with its sweep of history and the intimate account it provided of love and war and Greek gods," Dinkelspiel wrote. "I stayed up late many nights reading the book by flashlight long after my mother thought I was asleep. It became the tome that cemented my identity as a bookworm."
She never returned the book and "harbored guilt" for years. But after her home was destroyed by fire in 1991, her first purchase was a replacement copy of Powell's book. She calls it "the best testament of how much the book resonated."
Poised to interview Pollan, she's hoping to learn if the celebrated Berkeley author is friend (a guy reading under the covers by flashlight) or foe (an indifferent reader).
"I want to talk to Michael about the art and love of reading and how that impacts writing," she says. "When did he decide to become a writer? Does he consider himself primarily a journalist or has his role evolved with fame? Does he feel pressured since he knows his work will be closely scrutinized?"
Pollan is a charismatic, curious investigator of food, people, culture, the environment, writing and reading, so the event is likely to energize an already-convinced crowd to "spread the wealth." Dinkelspiel calls WBN "a smart way to engage people in literature."
Michael Barnard, owner of Danville's Rakestraw Books, says his store has a customarily quiet givers' party one week ahead of WBN. "We don't really promote it, because it's for the people giving the next night, but I suppose other people could come," he says.
With registration so far in advance, he says the most important thing is being aware of the opportunity. Givers must meet age requirements and describe the community they intend to reach and why the title they've elected to give will impact the recipients. "It's a highly-coordinated effort to organize 25,000 people," Barnard says.
This year, the Alameda Free Library is supporting the effort by hosting a reception for local givers at 6:30 p.m. April 22 at the Main Library, 1550 Oak.
Katherine Paterson's book, "Bridge to Terabithia" will be read by local author and storyteller Walter Mayes, aka Walter the Giant Storyteller, and local dignitaries including Mayor Marie Gillmore and Vice Mayor Marilyn Ezzy-Ashcraft are scheduled to attend the free event sponsored by the Friends of the Alameda Free Library.