The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Announcing New Big Read Titles!

Book 8 by flickr user ~Brenda-Starr~

If any of you eagle-eyed readers have been watching the Big Read website, you may have noticed something interesting about the new grant application guidelines that were posted last week: three new titles have been added to the list of possible book selections!

The three new titles are True Grit by Charles Portis, Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea, and The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. On November 13 at 4:30 p.m., we will be hosting a webinar to discuss the books and why they were chosen. But until then, I thought we’d give you a little taste of the writers and their work, from tidbits pulled from the NEA website. Enjoy, and don’t forget to tune in to November’s webcast!

In 2006, Jhumpa Lahiri received a Creative Writing Fellowship. Here is an excerpt from her artist statement, as featured on the NEA's Writer’s Corner:

“No amount of prior accomplishment makes facing the empty page any easier; what anchors us is the conviction that we must work even when it feels impossible or inconsequential. This is the root of making art, the source that allows the imagination to thrive.”

In 2011, we featured a podcast with Luis Alberto Urrea talking about Into the Beautiful North. Below is the unexpected "education" Urrea received following the book's publication:

Much of the book is really a love letter to the United States. What I didn't think about [is that it's] available in Spanish and it's being read in Mexico. What then occurred to me was that the Mexican stuff, the tropical stuff, for us feels like magic realism and it's full of all that juicy, amazing detail of what those Mexican villages are like. It didn't occur to me that in Mexico, Kankakee and the road from San Diego to Kankakee, Illinois, is magical realism and they're amazed at the things, you know, the Rocky Mountains, snow, mayfly hatches, how friendly Americans can be, Slurpees giving you brain freeze. They'd never heard of such a thing. You know, the 6,000 pound parried roadside attractions on the road out to Kankakee, all those things to them---even Las Vegas---are just mind boggling. And that's been really interesting. The things you and I take for granted: lawns, lawn sprinklers, watering lawns, and little playgrounds at the beach, and police in shorts on mountain bikes riding by saying "good evening"---to these Mexican girls is one of the most shocking things they've ever experienced. They can't believe it. It's magical. So I realized that I often think I'm representing this Mexican experience to American readers, but I'm also, I realize, representing the United States to other people [about] what it's like here. And that's been an education for me.

Last year, the Big Read asked NEA staff members to name a book that they were grateful for. Pepper Smith, one of our artist communities/presenting specialists, named Norwood by Charles Portis as his source of literary gratitude:

To hear Edmund B. Ratner confess, “I lied to you a minute ago. I am not actually the world’s smallest perfect man. Not anymore. I do have reason to believe I am the world’s smallest perfect fat man,” or see our hero Norwood liberate Joann the Wonder Hen, The College Educated Chicken, still makes me laugh, so I am thankful for Norwood by Charles Portis. I’ve lent it out to a lot of people who didn’t like it, which makes me stick up for Norwood all the more. Most people can’t get over the fact not much happens---the plot revolves around Norwood Pratt leaving Ralph, Texas, to find a friend in NYC who owes him 70 dollars. But it’s beautifully written and I get caught up in the dialogue and the appreciation for eccentricity (another reason some people don?t like it). Norwood is funny and for that I am grateful.



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