Amid the stacks of plywood, the scent of sawdust and the whir of forklifts, Ron Kolins clutched a cardboard box of newly printed crime novels. Scanning the lumberyard for his next recipient, he had a glint in his eye like a religious pamphleteer on a busy street corner.
Kolins was at Kuiken Brothers building supply in Midland Park, but thousands of volunteers across the country shared his mission Monday for World Book Night, which put some 2.5 million free books in the hands of light or non-readers. Approximately 50 people handed out 20 books each throughout Bergen and Passaic counties.
The event, a first in the United States, was supported by the nation's leading publishers and by the American Booksellers Association, the trade group for independent booksellers. World Book Night was originated in 2011 by managing director Jamie Byng of Canongate Books, based in Edinburgh, Scotland; in addition to the U.S., Ireland and Germany participated.
"One of the things I love is how this isn't just happening in New York and California," said Carl Lennertz, executive director of the U.S. branch of World Book Night. "The whole country is involved."
In North Jersey, volunteers distributed books at a wide range of locations from Applebee's in Northvale to an alternative incarceration program in Newark.
About two dozen middle school students in the Boys and Girls Club after-school program at Lincoln Middle School in Hawthorne received a copy of Kate DiCamillo's novel, "Because of Winn-Dixie." World Book Night volunteer LouAnn Rounseville of Hawthorne targeted pre-teens because research shows it's the age when kids lose interest in reading.
"Remember you learn ideas from books," Rounseville told the kids. "If you come away with an idea, that can change your life."
The kids carefully handled the new copies they received. Orangy Batista, a sixth-grader, stroked the cover. "It's like its right in front of you, it's better to see," said Batista, comparing paper books to digital ones.
Kolins, a general contractor, wanted to distribute his copies of Michael Connelly's "Blood Work" at Kuiken Brothers because he has a longstanding relationship with the staff. As an avid reader of crime and science fiction novels, he thought it was a place that could use a literary boost.
"I come here and they mostly talk sports, the big news of the day or are making some crass jokes. It's kind of a boys' club," he said.
In one instance, Kolins found he was preaching to the choir. Salesman Douglas Layden crinkled his nose at the new copy of "Blood Work." He already had two books on his desk; "I, Claudius," a novel about a Roman emperor, and "Rivers of Gold," a history of the Spanish Empire.
"Americans need to educate themselves better to better understand events," Layden said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Email: email@example.com