Thanksgiving 2000 Challenge

One of the elements in my life for which I am the most thankful is the gift of reading. As a child and young man I was encouraged to read and provided with resources and opportunities to do so. Parents, teachers, and librarians played their roles in nurturing the expansion of my mind through reading. Books provided windows out of the largely agricultural, small town in the middle of the desert where I grew up. Vistas of the imagination, the complexities of science and of social interactions, mysteries of the spirit–all were opened to me through the wonder of the printed word.

I’ve become now a de facto urban dweller, and I am all too aware that many children are not provided with the encouragement and opportunities with which I was blessed. (Due also, no doubt, to the changing times as well as my changing circumstances.) This Thanksgiving, I invite you to join me in supporting some of the young people in the city of Philadelphia.

From Sunday, November 19 through Saturday, November 25, I will be on vacation in Key West, Florida, with Abe and our friends Carol and Helene. I challenge you to commit a specified sum for each page that I read while on vacation. I will forward your financial support with my own to the literacy programs of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

My reading selections while on vacation may include (but are not limited to): The Banyan Tree by Christopher Nolan (384 pages); Plainsong by Kent Haruf (301 pages); On the Beach by Nevil Shute (278 pages). (I have a page that will give you an idea of my recent reading habits if you want to check that out.) A commitment of two cents per page seems a reasonably safe investment. A nickel per page would be most generous.

If you will join me in this effort, please send me an e‑mail letting me know how much you are pledging per page and what kind of a report you would like. I am prepared to supply you with anything from a simple total page count to written reviews of each book I complete.

If this informal read-a-thon just isn’t your thing, I hope you’ll take a moment to think about what it is for which you are most thankful and how you might share that thanksgiving with others. I’d love to know what that might be for you.

9 November 2000

Status report

27 November 2000

Thank you all for your response to my challenge! I have been overwhelmed at your generosity and interest. I received 28 pledges, totaling $1.03/page. I did, in fact, read three books while on vacation. (I also enjoyed myself a great deal, taking a 12-mile bike ride around Key West one day, visiting Nancy’s Secret Garden and talking to the parrots, accompanying Abe when he went parasailing, and snorkeling in the Dry Tortugas on our last day.)

The books:

The Banyan Tree, by Christopher Nolan, was my most challenging read and the most looked forward to. I read Nolan’s fictionalized autobiography, Under the Eye of the Clock, early in 1990 with my reading group, and I would rank it in the top ten in our 12-plus years. The Banyan Tree is a novel about Minnie O’Brien, whose life spans most of the 20th century in rural Ireland. I was equally drawn in by Nolan’s very creative and unconventional use of English, liberally seasoned with Irish colloquialisms and outright gaelic phrases, and by Minnie herself, a good-natured, generous, and loyal woman of the earth. Although isolated for much of her life at the end of a pot-holed lane, Minnie’s life is rich in relationships and memories, with enough unresolved tensions to keep me reading with anticipation to the last page.

Plainsong, by Kent Haruf, is the current selection for my reading group. It deserves the good reviews it has received. What an odd assortment of characters, all intertwined in dramas ordinary and heroic at the same time. My favorite character(s) must be the old bachelor farmer brothers whose hearts are opened by the demands made upon them and whose homely wisdom is finally given outlet. I’d love to know what happens to each of the characters after the book ends.

The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant, was an airport bookstore purchase for the trip home. (I just wasn’t in the mood for post-apocalyptic On the Beach.) This, too, deserves its good reviews. The author has written several nonfiction books, and this seems to be her first novel. Another character-driven page-turner, the biblical Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, takes center stage. Her first-person narrative voice is engaged at an emotional, individual level, but also conveys a timelessness and objective wisdom that seems appropriate not only to the narrator but to the character as well.

Not a disappointing book in the bunch, I’d feel safe in recommending each of them.

My page total was 996 pages, which translates to these pledge amounts:

@ .01 = $9.96
@ .02 = $19.92
@ .03 = $29.88
@ .04 = $39.48
@ .05 = $49.80
@ .10 = $99.60

Your check can be made out to Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation. Please indicate if you don’t want the Free Library to add your name to their list. I am happy to launder your contribution if you’d prefer, although I will include your name in my letter to them. Several of you, when you responded, sent wonderful tributes to the role of reading or of the Free Library in your life. Will you let me know if I may forward some of your comments with the contributions?

Thanks again for sharing with me this joyful part of my life.