Woman gives the presents — five dozen books — to mark her 60th birthday

By Elise Zwicky for Chronicle Media

Susan Stone of Manito (second from left) stands with longtime friends, from left, Mary Wiker, Carol Williamson and Lynn Berchtold during a book giveaway Stone held at Mineral Springs Park in Pekin July 16 to celebrate her 60th birthday. About 30 friends, old and new, stopped by to take a book. (Photo courtesy of Rita DeSollar)

On her 60th birthday July 16 Susan Stone of Manito bucked the tradition of receiving gifts, deciding instead to give away 60 books to friends and strangers.

“I have no idea how I came up with the idea,” Stone said with a laugh. “I wanted to do something positive and I’m on a limited income, but I thought: hey, I have an excess of books so why don’t I make other people happy and give them books.”

A steward of two Little Free Libraries in the Manito area, Stone set up a cart with books from her own collection on the lagoon side of Pekin’s Mineral Springs Park Pavilion and invited friends and anyone walking by to choose a novel and enjoy a cupcake and a beverage.

A quick-moving rain storm that swept through about 15 minutes before she had planned to set up her cart did nothing to dampen Stone’s spirits or the enthusiasm of more than 30 friends, both new and old, that stopped by to wish her a happy birthday and choose a book.

A young couple walking around the lagoon were the first to come upon Stone’s cart just before 5 p.m. “As they were approaching me, I asked if they’d like a free book or water, soda or a cupcake,” Stone said. “They both looked confused, like, ‘Who is this stranger giving out goodies?’ ” Stone said.

The two were delighted, however, to discover Stone’s reason for handing out books in the park and each took a water and a paperback before the young woman said, “I just have to give you a hug. This is such a nice thing to do.”

Stone said, “That was a nice surprise. And in spite of the rain and humidity, it made me feel really good about doing this.”

Stone said she tried to pull together a variety of books for the giveaway, including some of her favorites and a few children’s books, as well.

“I have boxes of books that people have donated for the Little Free Libraries, and I also frequent the Pekin Public Library book sales, so there are several that I really enjoyed from those purchases and I picked whatever I thought might interest a crowd of people,” she said.

Among the titles on her cart for the taking were books by James Patterson, Dean Koontz, Jonathan Kellerman, Stieg Larsson and J.K. Rowling.

A 1976 graduate of Pekin Community High School, Stone invited all her friends on Facebook and also the residents of a group home for disabled adults where her brother lives.

Asked what she hoped people would take away from the interaction other than some reading material, Stone paused and said, “I don’t know. I guess (the realization) that turning 60 isn’t all that bad.”

Before the event, Stone said she was most looking forward to interacting with people to see if they would get excited about any certain book.

Stone said she was happy to reconnect with several old friends who stopped by, including longtime pal Valerie Moehle.

“I was completely enchanted with Susan’s idea,” said Moehle, who picked up a Nicholas Sparks book. “It combined her spirit of generosity with her love of reading and allowed her friends and even strangers to celebrate her birthday with her in a special way.”

While visiting with Stone, Moehle watched her offer a book and a bottle of water to a complete stranger who happened to be walking by. “The woman didn’t take the items, but clearly enjoyed the offer. Susan’s kind and generous spirit made the celebration a success,” Moehle said.

A lifelong bibliophile, this was not the first time Stone found a creative way to include books in a unique endeavor.

“On my last vacation, I took my brother, Brian Stone, to Mount Rushmore and along the way we charted our route based on where there were Little Free Libraries, and we stopped at 10 different ones to book bomb them,” she said, referring to an act in which people fill someone else’s Little Free Library with books.

“So giving away books is just a fun thing for me. I enjoy it and, hopefully, the recipients enjoy it as well,” she added.

Stone has even considered handing out books instead of candy at Halloween but quipped that the kids in her neighborhood might egg her house if she did. “Halloween in our little subdivision is a really big deal, so I think if I didn’t hand out candy it would just be disastrous,” she said with a chuckle.

Stone maintains a Little Free Library in her front yard in the Talbott subdivision in Manito, as well as one in front of the Spring Lake Grade School, the latter of which she donated to the school after winning it from the Little Free Library organization.

Noting that giving away books to friends helped take the sting out of turning 60, Stone said she may think about doing it again sometime and she hopes others might be inspired to consider it.

“It was fun. I am so blessed to have such giving, caring friends and family in my life,” Stone said.