World Book Night 2014: Giving Away the Book That Shaped Me Most

4 years ago

I was in high school when I fell in love with my favorite book, Catch-22. People often give me the side-eye when I tell them that's my favorite, followed closely by Flowers for Algernon, but that's probably because they read books with plots that don't pull up rock of life and show you the dead leaves underneath. I like to study the rotting leaves and then remind myself to look up and see the magnolia blossoms before it's too late.

Books shaped my life and still do. My sister thought my parents named me "Rita" as a child because I was always reading, and also that was before she could spell. One drawback to reading a lot is the tendency to forget a lot of plots. I never forgot the plot of Catch-22: The anti-hero Yossarian spends the entire book trying to escape war and hypocrisy. As a teenager, hypocrisy bothered me more than anything else in life. Now I get bothered by excessive irony. I tend to think Yossarian would have my back on that, too.

The definition of Catch-22 is as follows:

“There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

'That's some catch, that Catch-22,' he observed.

'It's the best there is,' Doc Daneeka agreed.”

So tonight on World Book Night, I'm a Giver. And I'm giving out twenty copies of Catch-22 to the good citizens of Kansas City. I applied months ago for this honor, and I'm excited to share the book that so influenced my worldview with my adopted hometown. I also think the authors and publishers who agreed to waive their royalties and pay to have these books printed for specific World Book Night distribution are on beyond awesome.

April 23 is Shakespeare's birthday. And this is World Book Night:

World Book Night is an annual celebration dedicated to spreading the love of reading, person to person. Each year on April 23, tens of thousands of people go out into their communities and give half a million free World Book Night paperbacks to light and non-readers. World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging reading in those who don’t regularly do so. But it is also about more than that: It’s about people, communities and connections, about reaching out to others and touching lives in the simplest of ways—through the sharing of stories.

Here are this year's books:

The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
Zora and Me by Victoria Bond & T.R. Simon
Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
After the Funeral by Agatha Christie
The Ruins of Gorlan: The Ranger's Apprentice, Book 1 by John Flanagan
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Large Print edition) by Jamie Ford
The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Pontoon by Garrison Keillor
Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim
Enchanted by Alethea Kontis
Miss Darcy Falls in Love by Sharon Lathan
Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee
Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean
Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
Waiting to Exhale by Terry McMillan
Sunrise Over Fallujah by Walter Dean Myers
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
The Raven’s Warrior by Vincent Pratchett
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
When I was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago
Cuando Era Puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago
Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Large Print edition) by Maria Semple
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff
100 Best-Loved Poems edited by Philip Smith

Which books shaped you? Follow the #WBN2014 hashtag to watch the love of reading spread across the world.

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel

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