Sunday Salon: World Book Night

Photo of World Book Night books (Oscar Wao)

World Book Night took place this week, and I had the pleasure of being the giver of twenty copies of La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao. A brief overview: I live in south Texas, about a fifteen minute drive from the Texas-Mexico border. A couple of years ago, Forbes listed two of the four counties down here — mine included — among the top three poorest areas of the nation. It’s also about 90% Latino, so I knew when I made my World Book Night choices that the Spanish translation of Oscar Wao would make the most sense for this area (that, and I just want everyone to read the book).

I was excited about handing out books and crammed a few proper, key Spanish phrases into my vocabulary; I understand Spanish, but I only speak Spanglish at best. The plan was to give books out at the McAllen bus station, where I was more than positive that nearly everyone I encountered would speak Spanish. But then I got another idea.

I’m a fan of prison book programs — in fact, that’s where a lot of my ARCs go — but then I got to thinking…what if I gave the book to detained immigrants? Is that even possible? I didn’t think it was so I brushed the idea aside, but it kept coming back to me: a book (in Spanish!) about immigrants, written by an immigrant, and given to immigrants? How awesome would that be?!

So I started Googling. After a lot of phone tag, I finally reached someone at a detention facility about an hour away from where I live, where they house people awaiting deportation. And they were thrilled to take the books! Apparently, like prisons, the detention center has a (poorly stocked) library. But unlike prisons, almost everyone there speaks Spanish or some other language, and almost all of the books that are donated to them are in English. I was told that they’ve reached out to local libraries for donations, but haven’t had any luck. (Upon hearing this, I immediately went to my library’s bookstore to see if they had cheap Spanish books for me to buy. Indeed, the Spanish selection was dismal, though I did manage to find one Spanish translation of another World Book Night selection, Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief.)


I didn’t get to give my books out until Tuesday, the day after World Book Night. My brother and I set off in search of the detention center. We’d actually taken the route dozens of times because it was on the way to South Padre Island. Except this time, we turned off the main highway leading to the island and took a back road towards the facility.

Photo of sign saying "PORT ISABEL DETENTION CENTER, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, San Antonio Field Office

I also didn’t get to actually hand any books out to anyone. Just getting past the gate was intense. We had called ahead so they knew we were coming, but when we got there we still had to hand over our licenses, pull the car over to wait for a security escort, then follow our escort down a long road past fenced-in, barbed-wired areas to the main building, where we then waited for someone to meet us to take the books. So yeah…we didn’t even get inside. But the books will now become part of the library, and since they’re paperbacks, the people will be allowed to take the books back to their cells (they’re only allowed to read hardcovers inside the library).

This particular facility has been on my radar for a while: a few years ago, detainees went on hunger strike to protest abuses they were experiencing there. And if you’ve read Enrique’s Journey, you might remember that the author interviewed some of the detainees and workers at various immigrant detention centers along the border, one of which was this one. She discovered that 1 in 6 of the minors (male and female) being held here reported being raped on their journey across the border. So even though my World Book Night was kind of anti-climactic, and I’m afraid I don’t have any personal, heartwarming stories to share, I wouldn’t change my donation choice for a thing. If anything, it made me want to know more about the role of libraries in ICE detention facilities and the unique challenges they face.

In other news:

  1. I have officially been accepted into grad school (again). I already have a MA in Women’s History, but now I’m going back to school (online) for a Masters in Library and Information Science. Because being an adjunct is great and all, but I want to one day be able to, like, pay my bills and stuff. (And dare I say: my World Book Night experience has already given me a thesis idea.)
  2. I’ve reorganized my review directory and made my author directory a lot more user friendly. It was getting way too unwieldy for my tastes.
  3. Just a reminder: my Read & Resist Tucson challenge is underway, but everyone is still welcome to participate. All you have to do is read at least one book on Tucson ISD’s banned books list and add your review to the database. If you’ve already contributed: thank you!

Image: The Sunday Salon badge

14 thoughts on “Sunday Salon: World Book Night

  1. Thanks so much for sharing your World Book Night experience. Brilliant way to spread the love. And congrats on the grad school acceptance. I have a half-finished MLIS and really need to get off my butt and finish it up. 🙂

  2. What an excellent idea for a place to donate books. I was thrilled to see a Spanish translation on the list. Congratulations on being accepted to your MA program!

  3. Melissa, you are so awesome! Even though you weren’t able to hand the books out, I’m glad you decided to donate books to Port Isabel. Congratulations on being accepted into grad school!

  4. This just makes me so so happy to know you, you know, on the Internet. 😉 Great idea. Perfect place. Love that you went through the extra trouble to do this.

    Congrats on the grad program acceptance!

  5. I really enjoyed hearing about your approach. I’m working with a couple of friends who are lawyers to start a jail book donation system. The prisons have plenty, but the people who can’t afford to make bail need books. Also, congratulations on entering the wonderful world of librarianship–you’ll be great, and I hope you enjoy grad school as much as I did!

  6. This is so cool! I hope the detainees at the facility will get the chance to make the most of your donation. Even though you didn’t get to hand out books personally, it seems like such a good use for your copies.
    Also, congrats on grad school! Enjoy it while it lasts :).

    And finally, a geeky question: Did you get the chance to skim one of the Spanish translations of “Oscar Wao”? I’d be curious how they’d make the language switching in the original work in the translation. Do they just leave it out?

  7. What a great story. And congrats on your grad school acceptance. Can I ask what school you’ll be going to?

  8. @nomadreader: A jail donation system is such a cool idea!

    @liburuak: I did skim a copy! I think it all got translated to pure Spanish. Such a shame, too, since that’s part of what makes the book so awesome (though I don’t see how a faithful Spanglish translation would be possible).

    @jessica: San Jose State University, though it’ll all be done online!

    And thank you all for the congrats! I’m a little panicked over taking on more student loans (*gulp*), but I look forward to being a student again. 🙂

  9. Congrats on school! You’re going to kill it, I’m sure. If you have any library-school-questions, feel free to drop me a line. I’m a fairly recent grad, for what it’s worth.

  10. You are a rock star for doing this! Seriously – this is EXACTLY what events like World Book Night are all about. So what if you missed the actual day and so what if your plan was a little unconventional – you got great books to people who really need them. I’m thrilled by this… way to go.

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