The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Mockingbird at the Mall, and Innocence by Gaslight

March 23, 2009
Washington, DC

In all the justifiable frenzy attending Kelleys Island?s steady march toward getting all 128 islanders to read To Kill a Mockingbird, let?s not overlook some fine work going on in a few other burgs. Just across a few acre-feet of Lake Erie, for example, the Erie County Big Read has taken Sandusky by storm. Librarian Terri Estel writes:

?The kick-off was great. A huge success. People lined up at the mall an hour before it began. 450 came, and we gave away 220 books?We gave away rain checks to another 200 plus people, who will redeem them at the movie Sunday at the State Theatre. After the movie, the Erie County Law Association is putting on a mock trial on Monday at 6:30 and 8, complete with kids sneaking into the courthouse?We are doing a Monday Morning "Mockingbird Minutes" program on the radio which airs at 7:40AM each Monday.?

Older man talking to young women at a crowded reception

George Mylander, who, through his Mylander Foundation, volunteered not just money but time for his Erie County neighbors? Big Read. Photo by Lori Esposito.

As you can see, Terri?s resourcefulness is by no means circumscribed by Kelleys Island. If I noticed 450 people lined up in a mall for an hour, my first assumption would be either a) free ice cream, b) free beer, or c) free iPods. It would not be d) free books -- but then, I don?t pretend to have the Sandusky Library?s energy and imagination?

Ornate interior of 19th century mansion, crowd on floor level, others at balcomy rails with books in hand

The first of two capacity crowds, each 150 strong, line the loggia at Portland's Victoria Mansion. Photo by Karen Sawye.


And in Portland, Maine last weekend, I had the honor of officiating at back-to-back kickoffs for the Victoria Mansion?s Big Read of Edith Wharton?s The Age of Innocence. Two students from the School of Music at the University of Southern Maine sang duets from Faust, the opera attended on that novel?s first page. Interspersed with these impeccably performed numbers were dramatizations of the book?s first few scenes, performed by gifted young actors from Livermore Falls High School.

But the undisputed star of the evening was the Victoria Mansion herself, emerging from an annual post-Christmas hibernation and looking none the worse for her 150 years. Mansion director Robert Wolterstorff sheepishly likes to call the Victoria this country?s finest historic house museum of the period, and I?d be the last person to contradict him. Fully three floors of vintage Victoriana are preserved in this ornate palace on Portland?s Danforth Avenue, arrayed around two flights of a handsomely carpeted and resplendently balustered staircase.

To stand in the well of this showplace and look up at a fire-marshal-imposed limit of 150 book-clutching Portlanders, all craning down for a better view of Wharton?s Gilded Age characters, was to see The Big Read in all its glory -- spit-shined and rigged out like a three-masted argosy, under full sail and putting the scourge of aliteracy to rout. But to see it twice in a row, and know that the mansion had to turn away still more for another day, sent me back to the hotel fuller even of hope than of myself. The wished-for wonderland of a reading-besotted America still lies a long way off, but you can get there from here.

March 11, 2009