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World Book Night feeds those hungry for a good read

The "gift of reading" became something literal Monday.

As part of World Book Night, people around the region received free books. Visitors to Norwich's soup kitchen were presented with "The Hunger Games" and students at Groton's Robert E. Fitch Senior High School went home with "The Glass Castle" tucked into their backpacks.

The idea of World Book Night is simple: to spread a love of reading.

The process is simple, too. Members of the public sign up online to become "givers." They pick up 20 books, sent by the nonprofit World Book Night to the various libraries and booksellers that serve as pickup points. The givers then pass those copies along to people, particularly people in underserved communities or those who might not read much.

Last year, World Book Night debuted in the United Kingdom. It was the brainchild of Jamie Byng, managing director of Canongate Books in Scotland.

This marks the first World Book Night to be held in the United States.

For 2012, the expectation is that tens of thousands of people in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany will be giving away about 2.5 million books.

The books in the United States are made available thanks to the organizations supporting World Book Night U.S., including American book publishers, the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association.

The titles - 30 in all - were chosen by a committee of librarians, booksellers and publishers.

Robert D. Farwell, executive director of Otis Library in Norwich, said, "You're never too old to be introduced to the joys of reading. I know we have a number of constituents who could benefit from having a book that they can get and keep, where they might not be able to afford to buy it."

So, on Monday, Farwell handed out 20 copies of "The Hunger Games" at St. Vincent de Paul Place, a soup kitchen and food pantry located right near Otis Library.

Farwell said selecting "The Hunger Games" as the book they would hand out at the soup kitchen wasn't an ironic choice. He had asked other people who work at Otis to suggest titles. Otis' young adult librarian thought "The Hunger Games" would be a fine selection since it's been so visible, what with the publicity surrounding the books and the film adaptation.

Indeed, "The Hunger Games" books were happily received at St. Vincent de Paul Place. Bruce Fontaine of Norwich was busy leafing through his new copy and said he does read quite a bit, particularly science fiction and technology books.

Handing out free books as part of World Book Night, he said, "is a good idea. I believe it's something they're giving to the community - education. ... Providing something like this gives people the opportunity to read something without actually having to pay for it."

Holding onto his "Hunger Games," Axel Zapata of Norwich said, "It's motivating."

Over in Mystic, Bank Square Books was a World Book Night pickup point, and all the staff there were "givers," too, according to Annie Philbrick, co-owner. They took boxes to York Correctional Institution and to the New London Community Meal Center. They're sending a box of "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" to Operation Paperback, which forwards books to troops overseas.

Philbrick recalled being impressed when she read about last year's World Book Night in the United Kingdom.

"I just thought it was the coolest thing, that everybody could join in together to share their love of reading," she said.

Groton Public Library distributed books for the event as well, and one of the folks who picked up her 20 copies there was Jeri DeSantis, an English teacher at Fitch High School. She gave some students Jeannette Walls' memoir "The Glass Castle." DeSantis had already read this story of Walls' challenging childhood in a poor, dysfunctional family, and she had found the work inspirational and powerful.

"I thought this book would be good for young women, because it's somebody who had a tough life and turned it around," DeSantis said.

The young women she approached were thankful for a copy of "The Glass Castle," and DeSantis talked up the memoir with them.

DeSantis was also planning to drop off some copies in downtown New London and, particularly, at the Phoenix House at the Women's Center of Southeastern Connecticut. Phoenix House is for women and families left homeless due to domestic violence and/or sexual assault.


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