So it happens for the fifth time: The National Endowment for the Arts announces that The Florida Center for the Literary Arts will be one of four institutions to be awarded a major grant to launch a reading program. The idea behind The Big Read (this time entitled The Big Read/Egypt/U.S. and is part of the State Department's Global Cultural Initiative) is to get communities reading by reading the same book. This year, the program focuses on The Thief and the Dogs by Egyptian Nobel Laureate Naguib Mahfuz. The project culminates with this falls Miami Book Fair International. See this space for future Big Read events!
But (and you knew there was a but) I always wonder, when I peruse these reading initiatives, if there is any way to quantify success. Is the idea to get more people reading? Because I suspect that nonreaders don't respond at all; why would they suddenly want to read a book by an unfamiliar writer? A previous book used in this project was written by Tolstoy, not exactly the most accessible author.
I suppose the more pertinent idea is to introduce those who already read to someone new, and that's a a helpful and useful thing. I just can't help but consider whether or not the grant money would be better off spent donating books to a local library or school. We all know schools are so desperately short on supplies that teachers have to buy them with their own money. I'd be happy to have someone set me straight on this. Come on. I can take it.