The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Big Ride, Drydocked Till September

June 26, 2008
Washington, DC

I suppose it had to happen. After our pilot-phase Big Read orientation here in Washington in 2006, a four-city orientation tour around the country the following year, and now three Minneapolis orientations, The Big Read has been discovered. Claire Kirch, ace Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly, saw NEA research and analysis director Sunil Iyengar and me on a panel at the annual book convention in LA a couple of weeks back. In a weak moment, I mentioned our then-upcoming orientation in Minneapolis. Next thing I knew, our modest little 500-grantee kaffeeklatsch was news.

I bring this up because our grantees are so conscientious about sending us their clippings, it seems only fair that we at the national level should pony up with ours. Claire wrote a nice story and took a photo of me and Big Read publicity honcha Paulette Beete flanking our new Big Read map with 208 little flags marked the locales of our new grantees. Every one of those flags represents another city or town embracing a terrific novel for a month or so at a time.

But there's an underlying sadness in this for me, and it may help explain why I've been suffering from a pronounced case of blogger's block ever since orientation: In a word, no more Big Reads till September.

The Big Read lays low over the summer, not to rev up again until school's back in session. The office still hums, maybe faster than ever, since we have a slew of Big Read materials to turn out. But the subtle thrum of Big Reads by the dozens, all putting on programs and convening discussions and staging events -- the nationwide shuffle of tens of thousands of pages all turning at once -- that all falls quiet. Rosie the Big Ride, just donated to us by Ford, sits idle down in the Old Post Office building parking lot, slightly looking reproachful when I can even bring myself to look at it in the mornings.

This fall, Rosie and I will take to the open road again. Just the thought of it lifts my spirits. We've already got four site visit requests, and it's not even July. In the meantime, though, I'm up on blocks, racing my engines and waiting for a starting gun that isn't even loaded yet.

The logical thing to do, for me of all people, is read. I'm embarrassed to say which, but I've never even read one of the new Big Read novels. I've got biographies of Thornton Wilder and Edgar Allan Poe piled up on my nightstand, and a new review-model Kindle from Amazon to fool around with. I've got a commencement address to write, too, which won't be easy in my current frame of mind.

Come the fall, I'll probably look back on this brief interval of stasis and wonder how I could ever have taken it for granted. I'll have too much to blog about, instead of not enough. I'll file right away, instead of letting events blur before I blog them. Could this be what it's like not to have literature in your life? To face each day without the consolation and stimulation of an evening's reading ahead of you?
What an ingrate I am! Five hundred Big Read organizers have just converged on one overtaxed Midwestern hotel to learn how to share a great book with their neighbors, and all I can think about is September?

That tears it. I'm filing this blog, scoring some lunch, and coming back to my desk on a mission. The Big Read may be hibernating for the summer, but The Big Read staff is working harder than ever. It's a privilege to work alongside them on a project I believe in, and I owe them my full commitment. September may be two months off, but there are people out there not reading, and preparation for the fall push is all. Come back Tuesday for another post, forgive me my punchiness in the meantime, and read yourself silly until we meet again?