• Susan Bearman
  • World Book Night, Barbara Kingsolver, Oprah Winfrey and Me
World Book Night, Barbara Kingsolver, Oprah Winfrey and Me
Written by
Susan Bearman
April 2012
Written by
Susan Bearman
April 2012

I'm a proud giver for this year's first annual World Book Night USA, April 23, 2012. In case you don't know, World Book Night is designed is to inspire reluctant or infrequent readers to read more and learn to love reading. It had a successful launch last year in the UK, and now the US is on board. The sponsors of the event printed thousands of special-edition copies of 30 chosen titles. Each giver then selected one title and picked up 20 copies of that book to distribute today—World Book Night.

I chose The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. When I first read it in 2004, it took me four tries to get past page 40, but once I did, I was hooked. It has become one of my favorite contemporary novels. I thought that was a great story to tell reluctant or infrequent readers: reading is worth the effort. Back then, I was so enamored by my Poisonwood experience, that I wrote to Oprah for the chance to meet Barbara Kingsolver and have a bookclub dinner/discussion with the two of themWhile I wasn't chosen for the dinner (darn!), I was invited to be in the audience of the Oprah Show on the day the discussion aired. Here's my gushing epistle, complete with palindrome:

Dear Oprah, 
I recently finished reading Kingsolver's masterful "Poisonwood Bible" … or at least I thought I had. The characters, story and language of this book haunt me wherever I go. It may be that I, like Orleanna, have four children, including a set of twins (one of whom has different needs). Or maybe it's our family's recent camping trip, when all I could think about was preparing meals for my family in the conditions of Kilanga. Perhaps it was my stop at Old Orchard shopping center last Monday, when the pure volume of STUFF in just one store overwhelmed me—shamed me and our overindulged, ignorant nation. 
I was born in 1960, the year the Price family left for the Congo. The history spanned in this novel has been my history and I've known eve ry character of the book in my own life. Ms. Kingsolver's beautiful language eloquently expressed for me the one lesson I hope I have learned so far in life … that what you know to be absolutely true can be, and often is, completely wrong in other circumstances.  
By pure coincidence, my book club had chosen this book a few months ago. I couldn't even face the idea of a nearly 600-page, bible quoting novel about Africa. Now I can't believe it's over. I feel like this family will always be a part of me, that I will look at my abundant gifts with renewed thankfulness and that I will treasure the experiences of life with my family with less pettiness and more joy. It is the rare novel that inspires so much introspection—I just don't have that much time! But the "Poisonwood Bible" made me think about such things as parenting, politics, nature, marriage, racism, sexism, religion, tolerance, intolerance and the indescribable beauty of indoor plumbing, just to name a few.   
Finally, thanks to Adah, I'll never be able to read another sentence without trying read it backwards. It's driving me crazy! So, I'll end with my own palindrome.
Oprah, O, to go to Harpo! 
Please consider including me in your upcoming discussion of this wonderful book.

There are so many reasons to celebrate World Book Night. I love the idea of sparking someone's reading passion. It was a wonderful chance to partner with The Book Stall in Winnetka, one of the world's great independent bookstores and participating WBN site. Finally, this was my chance to fall in love with reading and The Poisonwood Bible all over again. Are any other SheWriters participating?

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  • Susan Bearman

    Judaye, World Book Night was a great experience. Definitely check it out for next year. It's interesting to hear from a native of Congo about The Poisonwood Bible. Barbara Kingsolver lived in the Republic of Congo as a child with her family. The book is not autobiographical, although I'm sure her experiences there influenced the novel and helped make it as rich as it is.

  • Judaye Streett

    I missed World Book Night.  I hope I can be a part of it next year.  One of my classmates from the Congo read The Poisonwood Bible.  She said it was an accurate portrayal of her county.