On World Book Night 2014

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Ines Bellina is Chicago Writers Conference Social Media Coordinator. She’s also this year’s official book giver at our joint mixer with Chicago Women in Publishing. Ines decided to share today her thoughts on World Book Night, its importance, and how it’s even helping her to become a better writer.

World Book Night is an annual celebration that aims to spread the love of reading through one very simple gesture: giving a book to a light or non-reader. On April 23, thousands of volunteers across the country will head out into their communities to hand out one of 35 selected books, in the hopes that it will ignite a lifelong passion for reading.

CWC Executive Director Mare Swallow was a book giver last year and she was the one that motivated me to volunteer for WBN2014. It didn’t take much to convince me. After all, the celebration involves pretty much everything I love in life–Books! Free stuff! Approaching strangers with a crazed look in my eye! All jokes aside, my relationship with books has been the longest love affair of my life. (Apologies to my husband.) If I can help one person to kindle that passion, it would be an honor.

On the other hand, being a book giver has also rekindled my own passion for the literary word. When it came time to select what book to give out, I chose strictly with my head instead of my heart. As part of CWC, I wanted to show Windy City pride and I selected Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent without having even read it. My one criterion was to simply pick the sole Chicago writer on the list. I had, of course, heard about the author but I had never grabbed one of his books. Like many of us, I had fallen into the habit of sticking with certain types of writers. In my case, I was a strict reader of literary fiction (thanks, grad school!) and YA (which is what I enjoy writing). It’s not that I looked down upon other genres. However, I had realized that my dream of reading everything that had ever been written was not going to materialize because of, um, mortality. With limited time on Earth, I had to make sacrifices. Gone was the wild abandonment of my youth, where I would go on reading rampages that included everything from soapy Danielle Steele novels to the masterpieces of Gabriel García Márquez.

Knowing that I was going to have to convince people that Presumed Innocent is a worthwhile read, I decided to read the book before tonight’s event. Legal thrillers weren’t really my thing, but reading one wasn’t going to kill me. (Get it???) What ended up happening was that I rediscovered how much fun these novels can be. I also rediscovered that any well-written tales can teach us so much about constructing our own writing. I’m currently working on a YA manuscript, which is about as far off from a courtroom drama as one can imagine. But while reading Presumed Innocent, I was able to pick up tips on how to construct a tightly-woven plot. Turow has a knack for bringing characters to life with one or two choice sentences. These are all elements that make any story shine, regardless of genre.

As writers, you probably have a love of reading firmly instilled in your heart. But I encourage you to also branch out from the authors and genres you have come to love. A bestselling romance could give you the key to that love affair in your historical-fiction novel. Find ways to break up that somber treatise on humanity by delving into some humorous essays. If you’re a non-fiction writer, it might be time to explore some sci-fi and see how they explain complex concepts.

And to World Book Night, a big thanks. You not only create whole new generations of readers around the world, you also open up new worlds to lifelong readers.

Tonight’s free event is sold out. We overbook to ensure a crowd, so space is not guaranteed. If you have a ticket, feel free to arrive any time after 6:30 p.m. You can follow all of tonight’s shenanigans on Twitter. The official hashtag is #WBN2014 and our handle is @ChiWritersConf.

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