Editorial | The Big Read

It was a hot, sunny evening last Wednesday. If there was a book to be read that afternoon, it should have been read outside with a cold drink. Yet at least 200 people came to hear from Alaskan author Gary Paulsen as part of the MI Rotary’s sponsored literary project, “Big Read,” at Mercer Island High School. Listeners of all ages smiled, laughed and clapped as they listened to Paulsen, 72, talk about his life and his writing. The more than 200 books that he has written are about adventure, resourcefulness in the face of adversity and the world of the vanishing frontier. The author looks like a man who you might meet in the woods, axe in hand. He wears suspenders and a denim shirt and an old cap, his face ringed by a white beard. His weathered jeans are held up by an old leather belt fastened with his prized possession: a belt buckle that only 71 people in the world own. It is the trophy given to every finisher of the famous Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska. That piece of metal serves as a concise metaphor about the man — the arduous race across the tundra is much like his life. Talk about street cred. The crowd was entranced. They waved their books as Paulsen would mention the name of a sled dog or a favorite character. At the end of the hour, they raced out of the theater to stand in line to meet their unlikely hero, pose for pictures and have him sign their books.

It was what organizers had hoped: a crowd not just of kids or just of adults, but of families together talking about and enjoying what books are all about. The initiative, supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, aims to encourage leisurely reading among Island children and adults. The Mercer Island Rotary Club provided the initial grant of $4,800 and the energy behind the project.

In celebration of the centennial of the Klondike Gold Rush, Rotary purchased several hundred copies of “The Call of the Wild” for Islanders of all ages to read. Mr. Paulsen’s appearance was carefully chosen to reflect this theme of the wildness of the Yukon. It was perfect.

I, for one, look forward to the next Big Read event.

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