Today I took part in the Pay It Forward: Sharing the Books in Toronto at Union Station, with a bunch of other Toronto writers and book lovers. The Pay It Forward: Sharing The Books was actually a worldwide event, with people around the world all taking part in a flash mob and then giving away a book that has meant a lot to them at 4pm wherever they were.
I brought two signed copies of SCARS, since writing SCARS and having it published dramatically changed my life and meant so much to me. It meant that I was being heard about self-harm, sexual abuse, and being queer, it meant people who hadn’t “got” it about self-harm, about why someone would use it, got it after reading Scars, it meant people who had felt alone and in pain felt understood and seen and less alone. And it meant that I was finally, after more than 10 years of rejections, published.
(Photo to the left is of Toronto organizer Nancy Runstedler holding up the Pay It Forward sign. Photo by YA author Karen Krossing.)
I arrived early–but there are two Union Stations in Toronto–the public transit Union Station, and then a larger Union Station that’s connected to it. I might have stayed in the wrong station or area, but saw fellow YA writer Karen Krossing enter, and together we walked into the larger station. It was such a delight to see other writers and book lovers who I love, including Karen Krossing, Debbie Ohi, Christie Harkin (my Canadian Fitzhenry & Whiteside editor) and her lovely daughter, Mahtab Narsimhan, Rebecca Upjohn, Linda Granfield, Marthe Jocelyn, and more! to chat with them a bit about writing and books before we got our instructions from organizer Nancy Runstedler (who I had the pleasure of meeting). I think there were about 40-50 of us who gathered. After we got our instructions, we went off to try to look inconspicuous before the big event. It was hard waiting for it, especially the last few minutes; I was so excited!
At 4 pm, Nancy and two others donned black hats and sat down to “read” their books–the signal to the rest of us to join in. We all joined them, sitting down on the floor with our books to read. I didn’t look up at the people who passed us by as we read–I wanted to stay in “reading” mode and show them how much books can grab us, entertain us, how much they can matter–but I felt people around us, looking at us as they stood or passed by, and there were at least two people taking photos (I saw the flashes on us).
After about five minutes of sitting and reading, we got up and held our books silently in the air, and to me it felt celebratory–books touched us, moved us, helped us. And then we dispersed to give away our books. Books that we cared about and that we loved. Karen Krossing turned around and handed me THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, which I’ve been wanting to read and have heard from a few friends is amazing, so that was a real treat! (Thank you so much, Karen!) And then I walked off to give away my books (each with a Pay It Forward leaflet tucked inside).
I was a bit nervous about giving away my books–my copies of SCARS–because 1) the cover has a (my) scarred arm, and I worried that that would put off some people who weren’t choosing to read about self-harm, and 2) often when people approach you on the street, it’s about asking for money (or sometimes directions) and people in the city seem to get leery of that. But I had the good fortune that both the women who I approached were open to what I said (“We’re giving away books that mean a lot to us, and this book personally has touched me, and I’m hoping you might accept it”), and who seemed kind, open, and even happy to receive a free book. I didn’t tell them that I was the author or that I’d signed the books–I hope they’ll discover the signing on their own. It felt good to put more copies of SCARS out into the world. And since I know that so many people have been affected by self-harm and sexual abuse or know someone who has, I hope SCARS will speak to them.
I was also delighted to see that my editor’s daughter loved my book HUNTED so much that she was giving away a copy of it! What an incredible compliment and thrill!
And just as I was getting ready to leave, Christie (my editor) and her daughter came up to me and said that they overheard one of the women I’d just given SCARS to exciting talking on her phone to someone, telling them that a woman had just given her a copy of a book! That was such a delight to hear!
What an incredible event and day! I felt SO good taking part, and I felt connected, too, to people around the world doing the same thing at the same moment.
Photo by YA author Karen Krossing
Some of us at the event, from left to right: Karen Krossing (2nd in), Mahtab Narsimhan (3rd in), Debbie Ohi (5th in), Nancy Runstedler (6th in), Cheryl Rainfield (7th in).