If you haven’t planned any charitable activities yet for this holiday season, you might want to set your GPS for Gaithersburg, Maryland tomorrow evening and come see bestselling novelist David Baldacci talk about his latest book, The Escape.
Wondering what the charitable angle is? Hint: It’s not that they’re allowing me to interview Baldacci, although I will be doing so! It’s that Baldacci and I will discuss, among many other things, his Wish You Well (TM) Foundation. Named after Baldacci’s 2001 novel and founded by the author and his wife Michelle, the Foundation supports “family literacy in the United States by fostering and promoting the development and expansion of new and existing literacy and educational programs.”
What does Baldacci mean by “family literacy?” I spoke with him at his David Baldacci Enterprises offices in Northern Virginia recently to find out, and although I’ve interviewed and spoken with the author several times in the past, I was struck by the intensity and sincerity of his thoughts about how parents and children can bond and grow through reading, both together and apart.
“I was a complete library rat when I was a child,” said Baldacci. “My parents didn’t have a lot of money, but there was always money for books, and time to spend at the library. My strongest memory of my childhood is my mother reading to me, every night, no matter what else was going on.” Readers accustomed to seeing David Baldacci as a successful media figure might be surprised to learn how humble his Richmond, Virginia upbringing was: “While I was raised in Richmond, which is a pretty nice place, my mother’s people came from the mountains of southwest Virginia, and my mother neither forgot nor neglected the lessons she’d learned from her own mother there. It was a hard life, but she understood that the way to something better was more educations–and she made sure her own children received it.”
But Baldacci isn’t committed to family literacy simply for its cozy, homey connotations; as a first-generation college graduate (not to mention law-school graduate), Baldacci knows first hand how much an atmosphere of respect for books, reading, and inquiry can change a person’s life. “I’ve never seen a bad result from books being in the home,” Baldacci told me. “Those reading skills that are fostered–if you can’t read, you’re dead in the water. Wasted opportunities are no opportunities,” he says, regarding lack of those for people who are in all sorts of straitened circumstances, from prison to poverty to sheer neglect. The Wish You Well Foundation is Baldacci’s attempt to help rectify imbalances that result in communities no matter what the source. “We try to go right to the heart of the problem,” he told me. “For example, several years ago when we realized that kids were having trouble getting through school days because they were hungry, we contacted Feeding America so that those kids could have meals–with their family members and/or caregivers.”
Baldacci believes strongly in the role of writers and stories helping to create “a well-informed electorate;” he knows that people who read are better informed and better able to make decisions that will keep them engaged in citizenship. “Intellectual property is all you have when you’re an artist,” he said. “Copyright affords you that, and it allows people to pursue creative endeavors and do great things in the arts because they can then sell what they do.” While Baldacci knows that novels aren’t necessarily the solution to our economic ills, he also knows that writers write lots of different kinds of materials. “I’m terrified that we’re going to lose our free press,” he told me. “If you don’t have a free press, where writers are fairly paid for their work as objective journalists, then you have a bought press.”
He practices what he preaches. The day after I spoke with Baldacci at his offices, I watched him brief a Capitol Hill audience on the copyright laws, and he spoke eloquently about the importance of maintaining a vital book culture, rather than a one-silo method of publishing–even though he noted that writers at his level might make more money in the long run.
Of course, if you’re a Baldacci fan already (I don’t know many people who aren’t; his tightly plotted, fast-paced thrillers please so many), you’ll want to know more about The Escape–and you will hear a lot about that new novel tomorrow night, too. It’s the third in his John Puller series, and this time, Puller’s brother Robert is involved. Isn’t Robert incarcerated, you say? Shhhhh…no spoilers, here.
Still want to know more? I hope so. Tomorrow evening’s event is free–but it’s also first-come, first-serve, so you might want to try and leave work a little early in order to get a seat. If your boss asks why you need the extra hour, you can tell her you’re heading out to get a head start on getting in the spirit of the season.