By HOWARD BALABAN
Medina Journal-Register — MEDINA — In the classic novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,” Mark Twain wrote, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.”
Indeed, libraries and book stores across the world subscribe to this axiom. In a variety of ways they advertise to the population that books open up entire worlds to them.
With that in mind, the first-ever World Book Night was held in March of 2011. It started in the United Kingdom and Ireland as part of an award-winning publisher’s idea to encourage reading among adults.
Last year the event moved to April 23, which is the International Day of the Book. (It is also Movie Theatre Day and Talk Like Shakespeare Day; movies use books as source material and students in classes around the world read the works of Shakespeare.)
Both Germany and the United States joined in on the World Book Night event last year. Locally, The Book Shoppe in Medina participated. Owner Sue Phillips handed out two boxes of “The Book Thief” to two people, who then distributed the Marcus Zusak novel.
Phillips said World Book Night is important because it “gets books out into the public so people have a good book to read.”
Phillips was part of a group of almost 80,000 in the participating countries. That group gave out more than 2.5 million copies.
She said the books served as a way to promote literacy and to encourage more reading among less-active readers.
Joining Phillips this year in the event are Medina’s Lee-Whedon Memorial Library and Bindings Bookstore in Albion. The library and The Book Shoppe are handing out “Girl with a Pearl Earring” while Bindings Bookstore has a handful of distributors giving away “Playing for Pizza” by John Grisham, “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris, “The Phantom Tollbooth” by Norton Juster, and “Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury. The store is also a participant, with copies of “Montana Sky” by Nora Roberts.
Bindings Bookstore owner Carolyn Ricker said World Book Night not only promotes reading, but it is a way to draw people together.
“Everyone in the country is doing this on the same day, so it makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger,” Ricker said.
At Lee-Whedon, Assistant Director Christine Mostyn said the program is helpful because it “gives adults free access to good literature.” Mostyn explained how distributors are chosen to participate after an application process. After that, they get to choose where they pick up their 20 copies to hand out to whomever they see fit.
Mostyn said it is entirely possible to go to one place, like perhaps a community center, and find 20 people in need of a good book.
This past Friday, Jane Wiech of Lockport stopped by the Medina library to pick up her case of books. Like The Book Shoppe, Wiech is going to hand out “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” She said the title was her third choice, but it is still a good book.
Wiech also noted how she planned on handing out her case of books. “I may give some out to people in the apartment complex where I live now. Last year I put some in the mailboxes of people I knew,” she recalled. “It’s just really neat to get people reading.”
The list of books from which distributors could choose included about 30 titles, among them classics like Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” and Twain’s “Connecticut Yankee” and such contemporary favorites as “Moneyball” by Michael Lewis and Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”
The local participants agreed there is definitely an advantage to a book with pages rather than one with a touch screen.
“The experience of reading an actual book makes the words come alive more; it makes the experience deeper,” Mostyn said, adding there is also the ability to dog-ear the pages that have your favorite passages. She added, “There’s a connection to a book because you can actually see the pages turn.”
Phillips said books are something that can be passed on to people when they are done.
The women all agreed that books on electronic tablets do offer some convenience, but books offer something more tangible in the ease of flipping through pages, and the smell of fresh ink. There is also a different sense of satisfaction seeing the pages one has read pile up on one side rather than seeing a scroll bar move - slowly - down the side of a digital screen.
The bottom line, according to the participants, is that reading has value, and reading good literature gets the mind going. Or, as Twain wrote over 100 years ago, it helps focus the imagination, thereby sharpening the focus of everyday life.
Mostyn noted her favorite childhood book — Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass” — as a prime example.
“(Reading) is a great way to escape. You can go on adventure without ever leaving home,” she said.