The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Annulus Mirabilis in Norman, Oklahoma

February 19, 2008
Norman, Oklahoma

The four sorority girls were jockeying for position around me, giggling and shouting "Halo him! Halo him!" It's times like this when the sacrifices we public servants make for our country really hit home.

Haloing, I hasten to point out, is apparently when members of this particular sorority -- and you'll have to forgive me for not catching the name, somehow -- form a circle with their hands over the head of some lucky honoree. Because this sorority has chosen literacy as its favorite charity, my arrival in town struck them as reason enough to go into halo formation. (I am, after all, a "national book expert," according to the front-page story in this morning's edition of the Norman, Oklahoma Transcript.)

The rather more sedate image you see here is of Norman Public Librarian Susan Gregory posing with a couple of cheerful patrons beside the vehicular centerpiece of the Bless Me, Ultima Ultimate Altima Giveaway, an ingenious promotion devised by the Pioneer Library System's Gary Kramer. The idea is, participants in The Big Read of Rudy Anaya's novel can pick up an entry form to win the car at any of the 83 events taking place around town over the next two-and-a-half months.

That's right, 83 events. (And counting, they hasten to point out.) They do things on a grand scale here in Oklahoma, and nowhere was this plainer than at last night's kickoff in the showroom of Bob Moore Nissan. Turns out the aforementioned Gary Kramer used to teach English to the dealership's Ricky Stapleton. When the library was rounding up Big Read sponsors, he rang up Ricky and for all I know threatened him with detention, because pretty soon the car dealer had donated the Altima pictured here, and signed on to host last night's splashy gala. Tacos from Chico's got scarfed, some fiery cumbias got danced to, speeches got made, and, best of all, the tall pyramid of paperback Ultimas wound up looking less like Cheops and more like Chichen Itza.

Come next morning, the graphic on the front page of my free USA Today at the Norman, Okla., Country Inns & Suites says that newspapers' share of car dealership ad spending has dropped from 52% a decade ago to 27% in 2006. How USA Today knew that I'm probably the only person in America who might find this interesting this morning is yet another of The Big Read's miracles, but the ad sales lost to newspapers have apparently migrated to the electronic media, direct mail and "other." All I know is, if "other" refers to what I saw last night at Bob Moore Nissan, then "other" is definitely something else.

Everybody involved in the Norman Big Read -- Anne Masters, Anne Harris and the rest of the library staff; all the Bob Moore dealership's generous team; gifted Oklahoma novelist Rilla Askew; and R.C. Davis-Undiano and David Draper Clark of World Literature Today (Oklahoma University's Ellis Island of international writing since its founding here three quarters of a century ago as Books Abroad) -- everybody pitched in and had a conspicuously good time doing it.

Halo them.