The Big Read Blog (Archive)

NEA Announces Four New Selections for The Big Read Library

June 3, 2008
Washington, DC

Last week in Los Angeles, thousands of publishing professionals descended on BookExpo America, the publishing industry's annual four-day orgy of gladhanding and handwringing. If you're reading this, the prospect of everybody from our Readers Circle member Azar Nafisi to Andre Dubus III converging just down the street from L.A.?s Original Pantry ("We Never Close") might have had you calling friends in town for spare couch space.

But if you prefer not to read, especially novels or poetry -- in common with more than half of America at the moment--then you probably don?t give a flying Wallenda. But, as it turns out, this nonreading cohort's days may be numbered. If unemployment, prison, or early death don't get them, as they disproportionately do with folks who know how to read but don't, The Big Read is gunning for them too.

I need not to tell readers of this blog (recently recognized for excellence by the National Association of Government Communicators -- which may explain why nobody?s heard anything about this ) that The Big Read is getting more and more Americans to pick up and devour good, meaty novels alongside their neighbors. What?s news is that, in addition to Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, Rudy Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima, and Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, The Big Read and its Readers Circle have just added four new titles to our growing list:

  • A special selection of Edgar Allan Poe's surreal short fiction and brooding poetry will acquaint cities and towns with this short-lived titan of American literature, whose dread-soaked dreams pioneered both the horror story and detective fiction. His verse marks the first appearance of poetry on the national Big Read list and, after The Maltese Falcon, the second appearance of a black bird.
  • Louise Erdrich's first novel, Love Medicine, will join the list and introduce readers to the agile, compassionate storytelling of a modern master, Her novels of immigrant and Native American families on the Great Plains have drawn accolades as recently as this year for her new novel, The Plague of Doves.
  • Thornton Wilder's The Bridge of San Luis Rey investigates the lives of five pilgrims killed in a bridge collapse, and deepens over scarcely a hundred pages to explore the question -- sadly more contemporary than ever -- of why violent, untimely death spares most of us, yet searches out an unlucky few. Also, for the first time among the now-twenty Big Read novels, students and theater companies will be encouraged to enrich their local celebrations of Wilder's work with a production of his most enduring play: Our Town.
  • The connected short fiction of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried follows a platoon of young soldiers into the jungles of Vietnam, where the brutality of war, the joys of camaraderie, and death's fateful lottery await them all -- and where even a fresh-faced American girl, visiting her sweetheart, can go frighteningly native.

Coming up in the blog: Posts on each of these books and writers, a Great Gatsby cruise, Big Read orientation in Minneapolis, and scads more?