Photo by Morgan Grana

Vernon Legakis will load 20 books in waterproof plastic bags onto the front of his surfboard and paddle into Cowell Cove on Monday morning. There he will hand the books out to fellow surfers as part of World Book Night, a global event promoting literacy and the written word.

“We figured we would be the only surfing bookseller in the country by doing this,” said Casey Coonerty Protti, event organizer and Bookshop Santa Cruz owner. “Part of the idea of World Book Night is to make the idea of reading books a fun thing.”

Local organizations including the Santa Cruz public libraries and Bookshop Santa Cruz will be participating in World Book Night on April 23.

The event began in the United Kingdom in 2011 and spread to the United States this year. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Book and Copyright Day, April 23, falls on the date of birth and death of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare. Santa Cruz City Council plans to officially declare April 23, 2012 as World Book Day in Santa Cruz.

The event is centered on the idea that a single book can inspire a lifetime of appreciation for the written word.

“One book can change a person’s life and make a person a reader,” said Coonerty Protti, who brought the event to Santa Cruz.

On World Book Night, volunteers will hand out free books to people across the county who may not identify as recreational readers. Volunteers select a book to distribute from a diverse list of 30 special-edition books donated by the authors and publishers.

Legakis will also be handing out books at the historic Santa Cruz Lighthouse.

“The world of literature is as massive as the ocean,” Legakis said. “But still, it’s wonderful to shake hands with some of these authors, in a way, to meet them on the page.”  

The aquatic division of World Book Night will be handing out Patti Smith’s memoir “Just Kids.”

“A lot of people think of surfers as not being well-read, and we want to dispel that myth,” Coonerty Protti said.

World Book Night has been making waves in the publishing industry, Coonerty Protti said. “[Nationally], 25,000 volunteers will give away half a million books. Most of the volunteers asked for a particular book to give away. You’re supposed to pick a book that you loved and that you want to share with others.”

For some volunteers, the selection of books is extremely personal.

Coonerty Protti chose to deliver copies of “The History of Love” by Nicole Krauss to the nursing home that housed her grandmother. The novel explores themes of family and ancestry.

“I thought it would be nice to go deliver that book to the nursing home and bring my daughter with me to make it a kind of multi-generational thing, in response to the book,” Coonerty Protti said.

One volunteer is city council member David Terrazas. Terrazas will be distributing the novel “Kindred” by Octavia Butler in the Louden-Nelson Community Center.

“It’s an amazing story that deals with racial themes,” Terrazas said.

Louden Nelson Community Center is home to two alternative high school programs organized through the County Office of Education.

“There’s going to be a classroom there on site that I’m going to distribute books to, and they’re going to use this as part of their curriculum,” Terrazas said. “Plus it’s right adjacent to a park, and I think some of the best reading can be done during your leisure under a tree.”

This is the first annual World Book Night in Santa Cruz, and it will likely be the precursor for many more to come.

“Reading will always be a part of our culture,” Terrazas said, “and I think days like this help to ensure that the readers of tomorrow continue our traditions today, and can continue these traditions moving forward.”