Time for a little creative visualization: it’s a Saturday night, the end of a long week. Maybe you’re tired, maybe it’s raining, maybe you’d like to stay home and read a book but you can’t because you have tickets to a gala.
The tuxedo is tighter than you’d remembered it, and the collar of the shirt could be used as a letter opener. The shoes embarrass you in all their shiny splendor. And the dress, so flattering in the store, was not on sale. Was it really this low cut when you tried it on?
Put on your jewelry now: the ring that was your mother’s, the bracelet from last year’s anniversary, the heavy gold cuff links, the onyx studs. Include the cocktail bag that resembles a sleeping dove, the handkerchief sewn by Irish nuns. Now think of how much you’d give to take it all off, make a bowl of popcorn, and stay home to read a book.
That’s what we’re offering here, except that we so respect your time we won’t even ask you to get dressed and undressed in order to prove the point. We’ll let you go straight to the book, any book you like, a book alone, a book read to a child, a book in bed with your partner quietly by your side. There will be no small talk to make this evening, no over-sauced fish, no seeing or being seen. Welcome to the Stay Home and Read a Book Ball. Mark the day on your calendar and put a big red box around it because you’re not going anywhere.
And while you’re home reading, you’ll be helping to ensure that other people will be able to check out books for free. Children will be receiving homework help from paid tutors. Adults will take classes to finish their high school diplomas and find jobs. There will be story time and literacy classes and readings from authors, all because you made the choice to pull off your dancing shoes, not that you ever could have danced in them in the first place.
If you’re wondering how much you should give, you may consider a quick tally of how much your time is worth, then add in the cost of tuxedo-gown-jewels, and multiple it by the number of books you’ve been meaning to read. Easy!
Thank you for joining me in making the Stay Home and Read a Book Ball the quietest and most successful night in the history of the Los Angeles Public Library system.
Ann Patchett is the international best-selling author of Bel Canto, State of Wonder, and most recently, Commonwealth. She has won several awards including the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Women’s National Book Association’s Award.