Events launched over the weekend at the Council Bluffs Public Library kick off six weeks of statewide efforts to revitalize the role of literature in Iowans’ lives. Susan Jellinger, librarian at the State Historical Society, hopes the project called "The Big Read" can coax Iowans of all ages into rediscovering reading for pleasure and enlightenment.
"People aren’t reading literature as much and we know that means they’re not getting some other things done," Jellinger says. "The studies showed that when people do read, they tend to get more involved in the community, they exercise more, they are more generous. They give things, they volunteer, money, time. We’re trying to work on some win-win things for communities."
She says the "Big Read" project will visit about a dozen Iowa cities over the next month and a half, focusing on the classic novel "The Call of the Wild," for book discussions, displays and presentations. Jellinger says: "Jack London’s book is really an exciting read. It’s a great adventure. We chose it here for Iowa because of his Iowa connections."
Back in 1894, the novelist marched across Iowa with a group of men called Kelly’s Army, headed for Washington D.C. to advocate for workers’ rights. Another Iowa tie: London’s second wife was from Newton. Iowa National Guard members who are serving in various spots overseas are being sent copies of "The Call of the Wild," and Jellinger says the soldiers will be taking part in a satellite-linked book discussion with the folks at home.
The book is about a pampered canine named Buck that’s dog-napped and forced to pull a sled in the frozen, dangerous Yukon. She thinks it’ll be a hit with the Iowa troops. "Here’s a dog that’s been pulled out of his house and has to make it someplace. Guard (members), of course, they’re trained a little bit more than Buck got trained but they’re pulled from their house and put in harm’s way and other places for us. I think it’ll be an interesting discussion seeing the connections between ‘The Call of the Wild’ and where they are, out in the wilds."
Events for "The Big Read" will be taking place through May in several of the cities London passed through while marching with Kelly’s Army, including: Council Bluffs, Walnut, Adair, Earlham, Des Moines, West Des Moines, Ankeny, Newton, Iowa City and Clermont. The events in Iowa are thanks to a grant of more than 16-thousand dollars from the National Endowment for the Arts, which is sponsoring Big Read events in 38 states. For more information, visit the State Historical Society website.