There is no room for literacy at my local pub…

Sadly, my local pub is apparently among those that prefer idiocy and ignorance to intelligence and education. Gladly, I don’t care if  anyone’s feelings are hurt that I honestly share my experience in coming to this conclusion. If you’re ever in California, don’t waste your time at Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant (Camarillo, CA) if you think reading is important. Because there is no room for literacy at my local pub…

Some time ago, I was terribly disheartened by my own experience as a writer trying to seek out publication, and as an avid reader desperately searching for like-minded people who love books as much as I do. To say “I love books” is probably understating it. I am obsessed with books. I read all the time. The only thing that I love more than books are words, which always gets weird looks when I tell people this. I think a word is one of the most beautiful things in existence, and no one can ever take them away from you. So when I was disheartened a while back, I did some research and learned some startling statistics, which I reported on this blog. Among the most startling of things I learned when writing that blog was that as many as 33% of people that graduate from high school never read another book again after graduation, with 42% of the remaining never reading past college. Additionally, on a daily basis the Pew Report estimated that Americans spend an average of 4 hours watching television, 3 hours listening to radio or music, and no more than 14 minutes reading (usually in a magazine or news online). Every, single day – no more than 14 minutes. I came to the conclusion that in a world like this, there is no room for good literature.

But then you have a rare event promoting literacy, such as happened today across the country – an event that lifts your spirits and gives you hope amidst all the statistics and stupidity. Last year in Europe a movement began called World Book Night, which spread to the United States this year and created an unprecedented movement of people encouraging others to read. The idea was that the 501(c)3 would get (through contributions from individuals, organizations, and publishing houses) 30 books distributed in large amounts to volunteers who would then give the books away for free to members of the community. You could give them away anywhere – the mall, senior centers, the library, the grocery store, restaurants, bars … whatever you wanted, you just had to give them away for the event, and for free.

So I signed up and got my first choice for books – The Poisonwood Bible. I got twenty copies, specially printed with a letter on the cover about World Book Night and a list of all the contributors that made the event such a success. A book club I’m in had some ladies that were interested in participating as well, so we organized a meet up at the local watering hole to give away the book (and other used ones we had collected) to passers-by.

When I walked in, the hostesses at the front door welcomed me and my box of books with open arms. They each took one and said they were so excited we would be there. We had communicated with the place about the event, so this seemed only natural. The others in our group showed, we ordered drinks, and set out the books on the two tables we occupied. We gave out a few more books. We snapped a photograph. Then I saw our waitress talking to the bartender and looking at us, and as she walked over I knew things were going to go downhill. The conversation went something like this:

Cocktail waitress: “So, what exactly are you guys doing?”

Us: “We’re participating in World Book Night. It’s a national event where we have been given free books to distribute to people in our community at local hang outs.”

Cocktail waitress: “Hmmmmmm… who did you speak to about doing this? Did you talk to Chuck?”

Us: “We sent an email and also communicated on your Facebook page.”

Cocktail waitress: “Huh. I’m trying to figure out how to say this without being rude. We really can’t have you approaching people to solicit them.”

Us: “Okay, can we stay seated here with our books on the table?”

Cocktail waitress: “Oh sure, you are welcome to stay and drink but you can’t approach people.”

Us: “Can we move somewhere that more people will see this.”

Cocktail waitress: “I’m really just trying to say this without being rude, but no – you see none of us even know what the book is about, having never read it. If someone walks by and asks what you have on the table, you are welcome to give those away.”

She came back a few minutes later to make it clear that we could still give people the books if they walked by and asked, and when we asked if we could put up a handmade sign she said “no.” That was the end of our World Book Night as we thought it would be. Disappointing, but we had to move on.

After finishing our drinks and getting out of there, we ended up walking around the rest of the mall and distributing the books (mostly) to employees of the other shops and fast food restaurants in the area. Some of them were very appreciative, a few looked like they just wanted us to leave. One guy acted surprised that people were giving out books and actually acknowledged that illiteracy in our country is a big problem that things like this will really help fix. In the end, we successfully got all of our World Book Night books distributed and had a good time, but that really isn’t the point.

Had my local pub not been in a complex with other places, they could have ruined our efforts for the night. I get not wanting people to bother their patrons. I get not knowing what the book is about and being worried we might represent something they don’t believe in. But had they taken the time to look into it, or had they considered even just letting us set the books up in such a way that passers-by could see and inquire, this wouldn’t have made me so mad. Instead of doing that, though, Brendan’s Irish Pub and Restaurant let us show up and order drinks, only to shoot us down. Because the people working tonight had never read the book. Maybe they’ve never read any books, or they don’t believe that reading is as important as making money and discouraging anything but drinking at their establishment. Do I really believe that it was some grand conspiracy theory on the part of the place to actively discourage intellectualism? No. But it still is true that if their patrons decided to read more, they’d likely spend less time glued to the bar stool with their eyes on the many big screen TVs that cover the place.

In the end, it’s just a big disappointment in a locally owned restaurant and bar, and a reminder that for the majority of our present society, there really is no room for good literature. We weren’t selling things. We weren’t trying to convert people to any religious or cult-like groups. We weren’t interrupting people’s meals or breaking up their attempts at love. We just wanted people to see what we had to offer, and to have an opportunity to read and expand their minds.

It’s too bad that there is no room for literacy at my local pub… is there room for literacy anywhere anymore?


  1. paralaxvu

    I always love your posts, and I definitely love books and magazines and good blogs. I’m always reading. But I do think the suggestion that you take your books somewhere else next year was a good one. Perhaps the center of that mall would be the place. That way, everyone from all the businesses would see you, and the folks who came into the pub to get away from it all could stay away from it all;)

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      We will DEFINITELY be finding a more reader-friendly environment next time!!

  2. ghfool

    There is always room! I got “all you can eat” Chinese food today TO GO and you won’t believe how much MSG I stuffed into that extruded polystyrene clamshell container!

    On a serious note: I’ve kept every book I’ve ever read (lots), both softback and hardback. I love books, I love reading and most of all I love words. Great article! Keep the faith!

  3. Abby Rae

    Word! 😉

  4. theonlyoption

    Too bad for the folks that didn’t care to take a book because they missed out on one of the best books I’ve ever read. They would have been much better off consuming a great novel instead of another pint of ale! Lesson for next year – target audience is probably not found in the local pub, lol

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      You are right, the lesson for next year was well-learned. They did miss out on a great book – I was so glad to have gotten that book, which was my first pick! Thanks for your comment!!

  5. rich

    reading is thinking. most people go to pubs to avoid thinking.

    that’s all i can think of.

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      Hahaha, that’s true. God forbid we have to actually think about what is around us. That might be disastrous (not being facetious, I’m totally serious!!). One day these people that float complacently through life will wake up. I hope.

  6. lauriejlong

    My dear friend, you amaze me again. I love your efforts! You have inspired me. Keep up your crusade.

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      You are so sweet- and thanks!! 🙂

  7. Shelley Burbank

    I don’t consider “giving” away books “soliciting” in the first place! Soliciting means asking for something while you were giving away something freely and with good intent. The library where I just started working had organized a World Book Night event in the community. I had never heard of it previously, but you can bet next year I will be participating. Like you, I love books, I love to read, and I find it sad that so many people miss out on the joy of reading and literature because they never try it. I hope people in your area read your blog post and decide to find a pub that is not only tolerant of reading but, gasp! maybe even sponsors poetry slams and open mic nights and “read your favorite short story nights” or something.

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      Oh, girl – don’t even get me started on that. Last night I went off on a rail to my poor husband about how that nimrod of a cocktail waitress didn’t even know the definition of solicitation. It was funny because I asked if she wanted one of the books before we left – quite clearly because she needed to start reading something other than text, Facebook, and the TV guide – and she said NO. I didn’t take it further than that, but am not surprised in the least.

      Thanks so much for your comment – and good luck with future participation in World Book Night! Regardless of the pub debacle, it definitely felt good to give away good literature!!

      1. Shelley Burbank

        Our library volunteers who tried to give away books found that people were very “shy” about taking the books (or really just did that “refuse to look at you and say ‘no thanks’” thing that people do when they think you are trying to sell them something or convert them to your religion. Well, better luck next year.

      2. Heather Christena Schmidt

        I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the fact that so many people are out there looking for money, pushing political and religious agendas, asking for signatures, etc. that people are just reticent to believe anything is for free or without something we’d want.

  8. Jim Cantwell

    To be honest, it probably was a blessing you didn’t give any books away in the pub. More than likely they would have been discarded inside the bar or out on the street anyway, and that in itself would have been a shame.

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      You have a point. I wonder if the people at World Book Night were worried about that. I’m thinking about sending them an email about the experience in hopes that in the future they can perhaps guide volunteers a little better on places to hand out. Thanks for your comment!! 🙂

  9. addicted to gummy bears

    I simply don’t understand what her problem was. Why does it matter if she had read the book before? I am a grad student and teaching assistant and her realized that we are graduating people from college who are barely literate. Many of my students can’t construct a sentence properly. However, I have been warned that I am not allowed to grade them on that, only on if they’ve answered the questions thoroughly. Since many times the writing is so bad that I can’t even understand what they’re talking about, it is impossible to do this. How these non-reading, non-writing people are even getting into college is a mystery to me. I’m sure the only thing that waitress ever reads are texts from her equally illiterate friends.

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      I was once a grad student and a teaching assistant as well and experienced the same thing. I had a freshman just out of high school that broke down crying because she was admitted to a university without the ability to write a basic, three page paper. She had no idea where to even begin. I graded papers and my professor that I worked for would just bump the grades up one letter after I gave them over to him and hand them back … when I approached him about it, he said it wasn’t worth dealing with parents complaining and the administration bowing to the will of whomever was paying the tuition. You are right that the waitress probably only reads texts from her illiterate friends, and Facebook posts like “mmm sssoooooo excited 2 go out w u !!!” So disheartening, but then if we stopped caring and being upset about it then there would be no one left with a sense of integrity in intellectualism, and the day that happened would be quite a sad one.

      Thanks so much for reading!!!

  10. free penny press

    Oh boy, that really burns me up how that “pub ” treated” your intentions. I mean for crissakes you were giving books away for FREE to promote literacy. Yet they have no qualms about getting people drunk and sending them out on the roads to drive.. Oh boy, I am pissed for you.
    I run a non-profit poetry zine (no I’m not promoting here just adding) and we give away zines to people on the street, in schools, bars, tattoo parlors wherever and sometimes people look at us like we are giving them the leper virus. It’s Free words people..Most are thrilled though.
    As a writer I am saddened by peoples lack of regard for the written word yet will text their asses off or Facebook up the ying-yang..
    I applaud your efforts and if it were me, a scathing letter outing that businesses lack of assistance and rudeness would be blasted all over the web.. Just saying.

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      I am one ahead of you on that scathing letter … I wrote a letter to the editor for our local paper, as well as a review on Yelp and Ventnation. I completely agree with you on it all. Free words are free words. Free knowledge is free knowledge. In the end, our greedy desires to make nothing but money seems to have again gotten in the way of what is right.

  11. the howler and me

    Wow. I love reading, I love books – and most of the people I meet just don’t. Most of the people I know haven’t read a book in years, and it makes me sad. Books are such good friends, such good companions… reading is a wonderful passtime.

    BUT then I was always a bookworm.

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      I was always a bookworm too, and what I said to my bookie friends yesterday is that I just cannot even fathom the thought of turning down the opportunity for free books. I am with you that most of the people I know just don’t love reading and books as much as I do, and it is terribly sad.

  12. jimcolv

    That’s a sad state of affairs and also represents part of the problem, that I see, in this country. I don’t get it. I just don’t understand how this country has descended to the levels of ineptitude and woeful ignorance that it is currently at. I only wish I was back home to take part in World Book Night.

    Unfortunately (well really not so unfortunate) I am in Afghanistan teaching soldiers about networking, networking security and computers and helping them to obtain industry certifications, which will hopefully help them get a leg up in the world should they choose not to make the military a full blown career.

    Anyway, I applaud your efforts in trying to make the world a better place by promoting literacy. I find the numbers to be appalling, as it pertains to the number of individuals that simply don’t read, but at the same time it doesn’t surprise me, especially when I visit these news forums and look at the comments that some people leave.

    I don’t have too much faith that things are going to get better anytime soon, regardless of how many “awareness” campaigns people start. Hopefully my faith can be restored but I also have faith that my credit score will be fully restored and that I will soon hit the lottery and be able to travel the world and act snobbish for a while…. Yeah, who am I kidding??

    1. Heather Christena Schmidt

      I applaud your efforts, though, working with the soldiers in Afghanistan. Sadly it appears that if not the military, for many of them such resources are needed or else they will have no other shots at life once out.

      I am with you on not getting it. I just don’t understand what has happened to this country. I just finished reading Shanghai Girls today and towards the end the sisters in the book get into a huge argument, the younger one saying that this is the country where people come for education and opportunity. The book takes place in the early 20th century, so obviously relevant at the time; but what exactly do people come here for now? Now it seems we want to get out of America if we are going to have any kind of a fighting chance.

      Thanks for reading and I always enjoy your thoughtful comments 🙂

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