The Big Read Blog (Archive)

The Not-So-Great Dictator

April 4, 2008
Staunton, VA

This is either the most revolutionary idea I've ever had, or the dumbest. But first let's just throw up some eye candy, shall we? I always like to put some art up to leaven these otherwise indigestible lozenges of prose, so here is "The Big Read Blues," courtesy of the Staunton, Va., Big Read -- about which more in a minute. So cock an ear at this and then I will be right back.

Cindy's Big Read Blues (mp3)

I've shown you that because I want to make a point about the viability of things other than the printed word as a way to draw attention to, and enthusiasm for, the printed word -- because what you are reading right now is, with a little luck, my first-ever dictated post. That is to say, I am enlisting oral culture in the service of written culture. I am going to make this maiden bow slightly hasty, but my rationalization for it is that blogging -- which I can now do out loud thanks to a new Web site that transcribes dictation -- rewards haste. Blogs are supposed to be spontaneous, and my tendency to bloviate at great length about The Big Read is probably, at bottom, at odds with the medium. It's like using oil paints to write a novel.

This Web site supposedly makes it possible for you to call a number and speak what's on your mind, in the same way that Steve Allen used to do, carrying a tape recorder with him at all times to keep track of his stray ideas. Well, if it worked for the man who's used it to compose "This Could Be the Start of Something Big," then perhaps this is indeed the start of something big.

Because this is a shakedown cruise, I'm going to consume a little of it with a couple of links. I'll be back in a second, but first I want to show you an example of just how spellbinding the spoken word can be as a means of encouraging folks to discover the written word. Here's Dr. Edward Scott giving a keynote address on To Kill a Mockingbird in Staunton, Virginia: [50 minutes]

Pretty powerful, eh? Now, so you shouldn't think I've gone over to the dark, antitextual side completely, here's Cindy Corell, community conversations editor at The News Leader in Staunton, Va., reacting in the paper to what you just heard:

The literary essay as a form of daily journalism lives! Cindy followed up the other day with this email:

"We are having a blast! Of course, [our book is] To Kill a Mockingbird, and book clubs have jumped in all over the place.

We even have one here at the newspaper! And it's mostly made up of folks from other departments! Imagine - a newspaper and its people who love reading aren't all bunched up in the newsroom!!! That has been an eye-opener for people! And a good one...That's been my favorite part of this month-long exercise. I've made new friends and bonded more closely with close friends -- all because of words on a page! Beautiful!

Please know that you and the rest of the NEA Big Read circle have many fans in Staunton, Waynesboro and Augusta County, Va. Harper Lee got it started, the NEA created the program and people -- just regular people from all over -- are making it happen.

To all -- many thanks!


I'm back, if only for the moment, so that I can dash off to give a keynote address of my own -- a situation that will find me speaking aloud in, I hope, far less self-conscious fashion. I will only sign off here by saying I apologize for the rather scattershot nature of this, my first dictated blog post. I assume one gets the hang of it after awhile, and stops starting every sentence with the first person singular. I can only think back to my hero Rob Serling's flirtation with dictated television drama, about which he wrote a terrific Twilight Zone episode with, I believe, Phyllis Kirk or Phyllis Thaxter, I'm not sure which, as the wife of a writer whose Dictabelts take on a certain supernatural quality. Anyways, wish me luck on this. I hope it will lead not just to more disjointed posts, but also more frequent ones.

Simply put, this is a work-in-progress, and if anybody has any reactions to it, by all means, let me know how it's shaping up from your end. I'll leave my email address: So that's it for now, and more dictablogs down the big road...