Books are fun. This, according to bookseller Carrie Rollwagen, co-owner of Church Street Coffee & Books, is at the heart of upcoming Bookstravaganza.
Beginning April 22, the Mountain Brook café will host Bookstravaganza, a weeklong celebration of reading. Co-owner of the shop, Carrie Rollwagen, says, “What we want Church Street to be is a place for people to talk about books and connect.”
Bookstravaganza includes a conversation with bestselling author Jenny Milchman, a citywide scavenger hunt, a neighborhood book giveaway and in-store discounts. The idea, Rollwagen says, is to get people excited about reading.
Rollwagen and co-owner Cal Morris decided to host the weeklong event as a companion to World Book Night, a holiday of sorts that began in the United Kingdom in 2010. According to the founders of World Book Night, April 23 is the UNESCO International Day of the Book, as well as Shakespeare’s birthday.
While 2012 was the first year the philanthropic holiday was celebrated here in the States — with half a million books given away — already more than 6,000 book outlets are participating.
The premise of World Book Night, Rollwagen says, “is to spread the love of reading to people who don’t already love reading.”
At this year’s World Book Night, Church Street volunteers will distribute hundreds of free books as surprise gifts in hundreds of undisclosed locations around Birmingham. “The books are donated by authors and publishers who have waived their royalties and fees,” Rollwagen says, “to promote the culture of reading in hopes that people who are not frequent readers will be enticed to start reading when they are given free books.”
Church Street was interested in expanding what is internationally a one-night event into a weeklong celebration of what’s central to World Book Night: connectivity.
As a play on the giveaway, Church Street devised a weeklong citywide scavenger hunt. “Solving each puzzle to win the prizes starts by gathering clues, distributed throughout the day on Church Street’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. The first person to guess each clue correctly and travel to the Birmingham location it leads to can claim a free book as a prize,” Rollwagen says.
The scavenger hunt, Rollwagen says, is about connecting book lovers to local businesses — a potentially mysterious association.
“On a basic level books create community,” Rollwagen says, “because reading the same book as someone gives you common ground to connect, even if you aren’t together. A lot of what our country is based on is pamphlets and written ideas. That’s our communication. Living in a culture like ours is a responsibility. The more reading you’re doing and better educated you are, the better the discourse in the community will be.”
Rollwagen says that reading literature instills in the reader a sense of connectivity to a broader community — the same way shopping locally can connect customers with both merchant and producers.
With 20 local businesses participating in the scavenger hunt, the event is also an example of the relationship among Birmingham’s local merchants.
“I’m seeing the local business community as a tighter knit community, wanting to support each other,” Rollwagen says. “I think Birmingham’s a really great city for that. … That community is there.”
Co-owner Cal Morris agrees. “We believe you create something with your purchases. We want to create a better, stronger community by buying from local businesses. And, of course, we want to create a culture of books,” Morris says.
Participating in that culture of books, Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m., bestselling author Jenny Milchman will speak at Church Street Coffe & Books.
Milchman is on a seven-month tour of the States, promoting her newest novel Cover of Snow, a suspenseful tale often compared to Gillian Flynn’s hit Gone Girl.
While her visit to Church Street will be Milchman’s first trip to Alabama, the author is no stranger to celebrating reading — she’s the creator of Take a Child to a Bookstore Day — and is eager to participate in Bookstravagnza.
“I think it’s an interesting time for books,” Rollwagen says, “because they’re changing so much. There are so many possibilities to incorporate music and movies and tie art together. We can bring books together and into the world beyond the rarefied groups who generally read.”
Church Street hopes the events of Bookstravaganza will do just that, excite readers and non-readers alike.
If all goes well, in the future, Church Street Coffee & Books plans to host a yearly scavenger hunt with more literary events throughout the year.
“What we want to do is think outside the box and have readings on a theme or [theatre-produced readings]. Alabama Booksmith does author events really well, and we’re not going to step on that so we’re looking for something different,” Rollwagen says.
Milchman says booksellers do a great job of keeping events fresh while creatively connecting readers with writers.
“As far as books go, Cal and I are idealists and think books are very important,” Rollwagen says. “I think what’s fun about being in books right now is that the industry is changing, and there’s room for creativity. That’s what’s freeing about doing a scavenger hunt. We’re not trying to drive sales. As long as people have fun, it worked.”
For more information on Bookstravaganza or Church Street Coffee & Books, visit churchstreetshop.com; on Jenny Milchman, visit jennymilchman.com; on World Book Night, visit worldbooknight.org.