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Passports With Purpose 2011: It's About Reading!

Posted: 10/19/11 04:48 PM ET

I was in the airport waiting. I was in that post-security pre-flight zone, airworld, when I realized I'd short changed myself on reading materials for the flight, for my trip. I'd recently installed Overdrive, the app my public library uses for their digital collections, on my phone. Using Sea-Tac's free wifi, I downloaded maybe half a dozen books, some of them audio, to my phone. My favorite was probably Peter Mattheissen's "The Tree Where Man Was Born," an amazing book about travels in Africa. I listened to it in my tent nearly every night while I traveled through Tanzania. To have this book at hand and to be in Africa at the same time, traveling through the same landscape that Mattheissen so beautifully describes in his book was magical. I was also way psyched that I could grab that stuff over the air for free while hanging out in Sea-Tac's lofty main terminal; I felt like I was living in a science fiction future full of privilege and book nerds.

My favorite book has always, always, been Alice in Wonderland, though I love The Phantom Tollbooth, too. I've read 100 Years of Solitude maybe a dozen times, and I'm also very fond of Timothy Egan's The Good Rain, a beauty of a book about the Pacific Northwest. I was a Lord of the Rings tween (a habit a college friend says leads to pot smoking, whereas Watership Down led to more wholesome playing outside). Now, because it's what I love to write, I read travel narrative. I love to hate Paul Theroux for what I suspect is misogyny, though his writing, oh, it's brilliant. I swoon for Pico Iyer, his keen observations and ability to catch that aggravating, wonderful sense of disconnect (I recommend The Global Citizen), and I've been reading bits of Susan Orlean's essays, My Kind of Place. Susan Orlean also wrote The Orchid Thief, a book I really enjoyed, though the movie irked me something fierce. Books, oh, I love them, and I am so excited when I have the time to really read. I cannot imagine a life without books.

This year, Passports with Purpose, our travel blogger's fundraiser, is supporting Room to Read. Lifted directly from the Room to Read site:

Our Vision: Room to Read believes that World Change Starts with Educated Children. We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that enables them to reach their full potential and contribute to their community and the world.

Our Mission: Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in developing countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond.

For Passports with Purpose, this translates into specific, concrete efforts -- we plan to raise enough money to fund the establishment of two libraries, their exact locations TBD, in under-served communities in Zambia. At the most basic level, the program will put books in the hands of kids that don't have them. There are corresponding goals -- bring in good teachers and librarians, engage the libraries in supporting regional education programs, increase literacy and, by doing so, change lives for the better. There's lots of information on the Room to Read site about their programs, please go read up if you want more detail.

I have tried to imagine what my life would be like had I not been given access to the expansive world of books. My childhood was full of books. When I tired of the books at home, I used the school library, and when I tired of that, I used the public library. Books are piled up around the house now, and magazines, and a ridiculous amount of the electronic stuff we have around the house is used for reading when it's not used for writing. I get to live in my own Dictionopolis (there's a Phantom Tollbooth reference for you, look it up), an empire of words. I make my living from my facility with words. Without them, I would be... I cannot imagine.

This is a very long way of asking for your help with the 2011 Passports with Purpose fundraiser for Room to Read. I won't tell you what to do here, I'll just hand you off to our website -- and hey, if you have questions on how to help after checking this out, please ask. But before you click away, think about what books mean to you, about what reading means to you. It's why you're here right now, because you can read.