The voice of the narrator was what really hooked Benjamin Lally: He is mysterious; you do not really know who he is. He slips in and out of slang; he shifts locations; he drops casual and crude (and often subjective) historical tidbits.
“It’s very much tongue-in-cheek,’’ Lally, head of the English department at Burlington High School, said of the best-selling and award-winning 2007 novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,’’ by Junot Diaz. “It’s a funny book and really relevant.’’
Lally hopes it resonates with others, too, specifically 20 students who will receive copies as part of a worldwide literacy event.
On Monday, those students and tens of thousands of others will take to the streets, gather at libraries, and congregate at social programs, all with a goal to hand out books - yes, the good old-fashioned kind with bindings and paper pages - as part of the country’s first annual World Book Night.
The goal is to distribute a half-million books across the United States.
“It’s putting books in the hands of people who might not ordinarily have them,’’ said Chris Kelley, principal of Winchester’s Lynch Elementary School, whose students will be giving 220 copies of 11 different titles tomorrow night to several local organizations.
World Book Night was conceived in England in 2011; this year, it is being celebrated there again, as well as in Ireland, Germany, and the United States, according to the progam’s website. The event is managed by nonprofits of the same name in both Britain and this country.
April 23 was chosen to honor the accepted anniversary of the death of Miguel de Cervantes and of the birth of William Shakespeare.
Designated givers will hand out brand-new paperback copies of 30 best-selling contemporary books. Specially printed for the event, the titles cover a wide range of authors and genres, from Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’’ to Stephen King’s “The Stand’’ to Orson Scott Card’s “Ender’s Game’’ to Patti Smith’s “Just Kids.’’
Each giver - there are 25,000 in the United States, according to the trade journal Publishers Weekly - was individually selected by World Book Night; the process involved writing an essay, selecting three books from the list of 30, and making the promise to actually give out the books and not resell them for a profit. Givers picked up their books last week at designated drop-off points - typically book stores, including Barnes and Noble in Burlington and the local Hugo Bookstores chain - with most individuals getting 20 to hand out at their discretion. Local givers are in Winchester, Burlington, and Salisbury, among other places.
Winchester, for its part, took the opportunity for a dual initiative.
“It’s getting books in people’s hands and getting our elementary school kids involved in giving back to the community,’’ said local coordinator Rick Emanuel, who works in commercial printing.
Monday night, six chaperoned teams of students from Lynch Elementary will distribute books to New Horizons assisted living in Woburn, Jenks Senior Center in Winchester, Winchester ABC, Winchester Hospital, the Woburn Council of Social Concern, and the North Suburban YMCA.
The 220 books will then be disseminated to residents and participants of each program; some of the titles include Suzanne Collins’ ever popular “The Hunger Games,’’ Kate DiCamillo’s “Because of Winn-Dixie,’’ Octavia E. Butler’s “Kindred,’’ and Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.’’
Although the school has a number of in-house literacy programs that promote reading as an “everyday, lifelong’’ practice, according to Kelley, “this particular event is less about promoting their own reading and really [about] promoting their love of reading with others.’’
At nearby Burlington High School, 20 books will be given to a selection of the school’s 1,000 students who do not necessarily consider themselves readers, Lally explained.
Salisbury Public Library director Terry Kyrios said her goal, meanwhile, is to reach out to what she called “the moms and dads in minivans’’ who cart their children to the library, but insist they do not have enough time to read themselves.
Kyrios was selected as a giver, and her pick is Robert Goolrick’s 2009 novel, “A Reliable Wife,’’ a gothic psychological thriller set in Wisconsin.
She hopes to persuade minivan-driving mothers and fathers to take the book, leave it in their vehicle, and read it in snippets between work, soccer games, religious education, and other activities.
“People need to remember that reading can be fun,’’ Kyrios said. “You can still get caught up in a book.’’
Lally, who teaches classes on contemporary literature and creative writing, agreed, adding that day-to-day water cooler or cubicle-to-cubicle conversations often do not include books, unless they are hard-to-ignore pop culture phenomena like “The Hunger Games’’ or “Twilight.’’
“I love this idea of a one night ‘literacy matters, books matter,’ event,’’ he said.
Kyrios was particularly drawn to the endeavor because its target audience is adults, while most literacy programs are geared to children.
“When you were a little kid, you were excited to be under the covers with a flashlight, reading for another 15 minutes,’’ she said. “World Book Night reminds adults of what that was like.’’
For more on the program, to see the full list of books, or to find out about giveaway locations and events, visit worldbooknight.org.