NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

NJIT's Student Newspaper

The Vector

How Blind Date with a Book Blossomed

An Interview with Melissa De Cunto
Najee Manning

Since its conception last year, NJIT’s Blind Date with a Book event has become a seasonal highlight for book lovers and intrigued students alike. With over 160 students attending this year’s Blind Date with a Book event on Feb. 14, this marks the fourth event to take place, as well as the highest number of participants for the event thus far.  

However, how has the Blind Date with a Book attracted such a large number of students? It consists of a giveaway with books of various genres that are wrapped in newspapers and labeled with a short summary of the book that can be found inside the package. This form of anonymity is the biggest highlight of the event, as it forces participants to use their deduction skills to determine if they may enjoy a hidden book of their choosing, rather than judging a book by its cover.  

The event was cultivated by Melissa De Cunto, the president and founder of NJIT’s Book Club. De Cunto, a third-year student, is pursuing a double major in business and cyberpsychology. Outside of her academic focus, De Cunto also prides herself on being the president of NJIT’s only local sorority, Sigma Psi Kappa, as well as being a part of both the business and writing committees for NJIT’s Nucleus Yearbook.  

Although this act of staggering multitasking would be considered impossible for most college students pushing through the academic year, De Cunto is encouraged by the pursuit of helping others gain an interest in reading and a connection with other readers. She reflected on her past efforts to help students read, not only with the Blind Date With a Book event, but also with her contributions to NJIT’s Book Club.  

“I created the club as a first-year. I noticed that no one was reading on campus, and I wanted to create an area for reading. That’s what also led to my creation of the Little Free Library on campus,” she stated. 

The Little Free Library is a birdhouse-shaped box on campus that allows students to share books for free by either taking a book from inside or placing a book in the box to share with others. Reflecting on the progress she has made as a student at NJIT, De Cunto beamed, “I understand people who love to read, want to read, or have the desire to simply attain a free book.” 

De Cunto acknowledged that Blind Date with a Book could not be performed with such quality and synchronization without the help of other connected organizations. The first iteration took place on Feb. 8 of last year, when members of The Vector thought of holding such an event as a way to use undistributed newspapers.  

It was difficult gauging how much interest there would be from fellow students, so that event only had a handful of books and smaller budget attached to it. Because Book Club was a relatively new organization at that point, most of the financial support came from The Vector. The second iteration that semester saw more engagement and organization in terms of planning the event after both clubs were more aware of what to expect.  

This academic year saw one Blind Date with a Book per semester, as club members saw how much planning effort went into them; both events had partners Nucleus Yearbook, The Vector, and The Minerva — NJIT’s creative writing club.  

De Cunto recalled, “We finally were able to create events that our brains could not comprehend doing alone. We need the help, and we love collaborations!”  

This accumulation of growth has led to the most expansive event for the Blind Date with a Book event to date. With this semester’s event taking place on Valentine’s Day, the book-focused festivity took place in NJIT’s Highlander Pub, where the love for books and others bloomed through the sharing of purple roses to each student by the staff as they entered the room, as well as having a display of rose-colored Valentine’s Day-themed stickers near the wrapped books.  

In regards to the strong incorporation of the amorous theme for this year’s event, De Cunto stated, “The goal of this year was to … showcase the true essence of Blind Date with a Book.” Rather than focusing solely on receiving love and gifts from a romantic partner, De Cunto advocated for treating oneself with a gift based on one’s interests. “You don’t have to be in a relationship to have to get free things on Valentine’s Day. You can have a blind date with yourself and a book.” 

Spread across two lengthy tables laid rows of individual books hidden inside newspaper covering, filling every corner of the furniture. In between the newspaper wrapping for each book was a stylized bookmark which showcased a synopsis and content warnings for every covered book. When asked if the books for this semester’s event were heavily romance-based due to the theme, De Cunto explained the process and system used to choose books for each event.  

“With it being Valentine’s Day, you’re going to get a lot of romance, but if you don’t like romance, we have thrillers, manga, and more. During the events, I [make a mental note of what genre of books tend to be left behind or taken first]. However, there is always an incorporation of the theme, such as last semester’s event, which had more horror books due to [the plan for it to take] place on Friday the 13th.”  

This effort placed in finding books for events is a meticulous procedure for De Cunto; she shared, “Every time an event ends, I create a spreadsheet and a Google Slides for the next event in the year. For example, the structure of this event and the previous event were created last June.” 

Outside of students simply picking out books to read, De Cunto hoped to have more student involvement with the inclusion of clubs providing games, such as The Minerva, and more interactive features to make the event more exciting for everyone. De Cunto shared, “For this event, we created our own stickers to give away for free. We also had stylized metal bookmarks included with every book, and we’re giving away flowers as well. We’re trying to target everyone and make everyone feel included.” 

When asked if there were any hardships in making this semester’s Blind Date with a Book, De Cunto answered, “There’s always hardships. First, I created four custom bookmark styles, totalling over 800 bookmarks, with 200 of those being individually different from each other due to creating a custom synopsis and specific trigger warnings for each bookmark. Then, dealing with the forecasted weather caused fears of postponing. Another hardship was ensuring that every book got delivered on time.”  

De Cunto reflected that she did not think she had achieved all her goals for the event, “I tend to [be an overachiever], I give it a nine out of 10 because it’s not perfect, so my goals are not reached yet. I don’t know if they ever will be fulfilled. So, I would give the event a nine out of 10 for its success.” 

For the future of Blind Date With a Book, De Cunto is focusing on the importance of its next location. She is hoping to host the event in the Campus Center Atrium, a showcase of the event’s growth since its inception. “For our first event, we had a small table in the Campus Center hallway due to unknown interest with the event; for the next, we moved to The Vector’s office.” 

“I feel that we’ve already outgrown the current location because we can only allow 15 people at a time to avoid potential injuries,” she continued. “I think that for the next event, we’re eyeing the Atrium. We’re planning on providing free items, food, and music for individuals to sit and enjoy there, such as groups from the Society of Musical Arts. We’re also thinking of sharing tea and crumpets to provide a true cafe experience.” 

De Cunto also sets sight on helping others to read outside of NJIT’s campus, especially those who cannot afford to purchase books of their own.  

On March 19, along with the support of the Dean of Students office, Book Club launched its Pages of Hope Book Drive that lasts for a month. The kickoff event already saw over 400 donated books; the overall target is to collect 1,000 book donations to enrich the reading experience of individuals within the Newark community. 

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Najee Manning, Senior Staff Writer
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