But sometimes you can.
Maybe it’s because I can’t imagine saying no to a free book, but I was surprised to find that it took a full half-hour to give away 20 copies of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks during last night’s World BookNight event.
The Stacked family positioned themselves near a subway entrance in Manhattan during rush hour and offered the book to everyone that passed by. I hadn’t counted on the number of people who are plugged into their electronic devices or the number that have their “commuter faces” on—look straight ahead and ignore the people around you as much as possible. But we also got some really nice responses. After taking a book, then giving it back because he has so many books and wanted us to give it to someone who needs it more, one man lingered to tell us how refreshing it was to see this kind of effort. Another man took one happily telling us he’d take anything that’s free. Some wanted to know what the book was about, one decided it was too depressing, and another told us he had too many books already including the two he was carrying in his bag.
|Giving away copies of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.|
In truth, I don’t think the book will be everyone’s cup of tea. It covers some difficult subject matter, including issues of bioethics, exploitation of African-American patients during the 1940s and 1950s, insights into the workings of the medical research community and the failure of our healthcare system to provide adequate coverage to those in need. But it’s also an important scientific story that should be more widely known and a moving account of a family trying to learn the truth about what happened to their mother.
Being part of this multi-country effort to spread a love of literature was exhilarating despite the non-responses from some. The positive responses reassure me that there are still people who want to hold an actual book in their hands, who are open to the idea of learning about a new subject, and who just can’t say no to a free book.