The Writing on the Wall

Some say the book is in trouble, destined to become obsolete in the computer age. But when the Denver Public Library Friends Foundation asked for literary testimonials from national celebrities and role models for an upcoming exhibit, the results expressed, in myriad ways, solid, enduring support for books. Called Library Notes, the exhibit is slated to be unveiled Friday at the Booklover's Ball, a Friends Foundation benefit to raise funds for the library's youth nonfiction collection. It's aimed at the readers of the future--kids--but it offers ample inspiration for adults as well.

Who contributed? It might be easier to list whose who did not. "We sent out hundreds and hundreds of letters," says event co-chair Marcy Benson, who reports great successes and vast disappointments.

"We found out that rock stars don't respond to general requests, because we got no overwhelming endorsement from that group," she remarks sadly. But plenty of big names from every other popular arena did reply, and the list, which includes TV and movie star Oprah Winfrey, ski-film auteur Warren Miller, jeans sultan Calvin Klein, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, cowboy poet Baxter Black and kids' author Judy Blume, is still growing. In addition, the local front added its own who's who of book lovers to the roster, from Fort restaurateur Sam Arnold philosophizing about reading Oz books under the covers, to Dante Bichette waxing nostalgic on reading about sports stars he admired.

The responses were as varied as the pool from which they came. John Travolta sent only an autographed glossy emblazoned "Read to Dream," while author John Updike wrote a sweet short-short story of a letter that aptly gets to the heart of the ball's true intent. Local artist Patti Cramer illustrated her point, and Westword cartoonist Kenny Be contributed a touching yet satirical pictorial serial titled My Life in the Library. The Friends also bagged an unexpected ace in the hole: Thanks to the efforts seventy years ago of a semi-anonymous Denver librarian named Mrs. Watson, they've added to the mix several vintage testimonials by such luminaries, literary and otherwise, as deaf-blind spokeswoman Helen Keller, inventor Thomas Edison, Little House author Laura Ingalls Wilder, Peter Rabbit creator Beatrix Potter and First Lady/humanitarian Eleanor Roosevelt.

Benson says the hunt for contributions is not a done deal. For one thing, the Friends committee plans to continue efforts to bring in new material after the ball is over. "I will not rest until we get at least ten Broncos," Benson vows, admitting that the dead of football season has been an inopportune time to drum up thoughtful words from Terrell Davis or Shannon Sharpe. Ditto for Avalanche members, who've recently hit the ice for another year.

"Our main goal is to show teens that reading is cool--if John Elway thinks it's cool, then they're going to think, 'This is okay.'" To that end, they'll ask ballgoers to suggest future celebrities and would love to hear from the public at large. But, Benson adds, solid connections might be more helpful to the committee than the suggested names themselves. "Of course, we've already tried to get Michael Jackson," she notes, hoping to discourage a deluge of off-the-cuff ideas. "But if someone knows someone who could help us get to others, that would be a help." The number to call is 303-640-6180.

Once assembled, the Library Notes will be displayed at the Central Library, with hopeful plans for travel to branch libraries and even public schools. "We thought about auctioning some off, but I don't think we'll ever want to give them up," Benson concedes. And with good reason: The ultimate value of the notes is something that can't be counted in dollars and cents. Where else, after all, can you find humorist Dave Barry's clever bit on the Dewey decimal system sidled up to 60 Minutes correspondent Ed Bradley's praises: "As a child, I lived to read books. They were a pathway to worlds and people far from my neighborhood in Philadelphia. And even today, as I travel around the world shooting stories for 60 Minutes, a book is my constant companion." Or cartoonist Cathy Guisewite's lovably gushing statement that reading Charlotte's Web "made it impossible for me to squash a spider" next to Updike's crowning compliment to the book: "It will wait patiently for you, the least complaining of friends."

While the majority of celebrities who wrote back to the Friends aren't expected to attend the Booklover's Ball, they'll be there in spirit, offering an abundance of words as varied and steadfast as the books they celebrate. As actor Ossie Davis writes, "They never let me down, they never shut me out, they never turn their backs when I need information, or a story. I love books. I hope you do, too."


Booklover's Ball, 6:30 p.m. October 23, Denver Central Library, 10 West 14th Avenue Parkway, $100-$150, 303-640-6180.


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