The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Bookman and the Blogger Should Be Friends

The farmer and the rancher should be friends. This home truth from Oscar Hammerstein?s lyrics for Oklahoma loses none of its infinite applicability by being, as I just embarrassingly found out, a misquotation. (Future blog post: The Causes and Sometimes Beneficial Effects of Inadvertent Misquotation.) The real lyric goes, ?The farmer and the cowman should be friends.? In other words, folks with more in common than not, should be nicer to each other than not. Hammerstein?s nostrum goes for not just farmers and the cowmen, but also writers and editors, writing professors and English professors, and -- the indirect text of today?s sermon -- books and computers.

If Leo Tolstoy could learn to ride a bicycle at 67, even my mother can master a computer.

Exhibit A in my brief is how much fun it is to read the print edition of the Sunday paper with the Internet handy. Want to know who won the liner notes category while reading the Grammys wrap-up? Look it up online. Want to remind yourself when the show of WWII internee Chiura Obata?s Yosemite paintings opens at the Smithsonian? Look it up online, then paste it into your calendar software. You get the idea.

Exhibit B is Michael A. Denner?s ?Totally Unofficial Readers' Blog for Champaign-Urbana's BIG READ.? Prof. Denner sent me greetings at and introduced himself: ?I'll be giving the keynote address at Urbana-Champaign's Big Read -- on The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I've been blogging on my lecture, on my reactions to re-reading the novel.?
He thought I?d find it interesting, and was he ever right. It?s a terrific window into how a smart academic can write for a general readership and dispel the noxious stereotype of scholars as jargon-bound eggheads whose prose tastes like a tweed elbow patch. Check it out at the puckishly named

Michael?s work is emblematic of how a lot of campuses around the country, such as Washington U. in St. Louis and Parkville in Kansas City, are starting to embrace The Big Read as a way of improving town-gown relations. It?s also a great way of creating a greater sense of fellowship among students, as colleges across the country are discovering with their campus reads, whether affiliated with The Big Read or no. And if anybody knows of some information clearinghouse where I can find a list of campus reads around the country, I?d love to reach out to any of them that could use a little NEA help to cope with all the demands of such an undertaking.

Finally today, a hearty hello to Victoria Hutter, just joining the Big Read as communications director designate. Victoria is a Broadway baby, through and through, as anybody lucky enough to see the annual NEA amateur theatricals she directs around here can attest. Probably it?s her new eyes on the blog that inspired this morning?s Hammerstein lede. Remarkable how, in ways not always apparent to the author, readership propels and steers a writer?s ship.

Speaking of which, keep those cards and letters coming to Do you have a Big Read blog like Michael?s? Clue me in?