To know a book, you have only to read it closely. But to know a writer, one book is almost never enough. This is certainly true of Thornton Wilder. At first glance, his novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey and his play Our Town may appear to have little in common. One is about the search for meaning after a fatal bridge collapse in Peru, the other about life in a small New Hampshire town. Only after contemplating these timeless stories side by side do we begin to discover the signature they share: an appreciation for life’s preciousness in the shadow of eternity.
The Big Read is a program of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American popular culture. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 NEA report, identified a critical decline in reading for pleasure among American adults. The Big Read addresses this issue by bringing communities together to read, discuss, and celebrate books and writers from American and world literature.
A great book combines enlightenment with enchantment. It awakens our imagination and enlarges our humanity. It can even offer harrowing insights that somehow console and comfort us. Whether you’re a regular reader already or a nonreader making up for lost time, thank you for joining The Big Read.
Thornton Wilder in the role of George Antrobus in The Skin of our Teeth (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)
Copyright Skip Nall/Corbis
Thornton Wilder as the Stage Manager in Our Town, 1939 (Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)