When First Lady Laura Bush kicks off the 2nd National Book Festival on Saturday, October 12, on the Capitol’s West Lawn, she’ll be lending the White House imprimatur to the cause of reading in more ways than one. Besides bringing the likes of Ha Jin, Dava Sobel, Jules Feiffer, and Billy Collins, among some 70 other authors, to the Capitol — and posing for a celebrity photograph in the Association of American Publishers’ Get Caught Reading campaign, joining those glorious shots of Whoopi Goldberg and Rosie — she’ll also be presiding over what could be a key moment in the AAP’s quest to take its three-year-old campaign to the grassroots.
Sponsored by the Library of Congress, the “national” festival actually will live up to its name this year, as 22 states are set to join in with a number of linked events between late August and October. (New York’s will be sponsored by The New York Center for the Book on Sept. 19 at Columbia University, with a featured writer to be announced.) The hope is that connecting the dots around the country will help take what has been a somewhat rarefied print campaign down home to the masses. “This is a big chance,” says AAP President Pat Schroeder. “If we could finally get all of America reading books at the same time, that would be exciting.”
There’s already been some progress on that front, according to AAP Vice President Kathryn Blough, who reports that with the help of Anderson News, the Get Caught Reading logo will be displayed in 1,700 supermarkets, including Kroger, Fred Meyer, and Fry’s stores, and McDonald’s will plug the program in its in-school show, which is titled “Book Time.” The celebrity photo pitch keeps growing as well, and in addition to the First Lady, recent recruits include Mayor Bloomberg, Spider-Man, and Drew Carey, while hot young things in the 18-34 age bracket are being targeted for the next round. Hundreds of congresspeople have also posed, and their photos are ready for plastering around the libraries of their home districts, downloadable from www.getcaughtreading.com.
But to take the campaign to the next level, the AAP needs to hit America where it hurts — via TV, that is. “We really wish we could get into the broadcast media,” Schroeder says. “We’re scratching our heads and trying to figure that one out.” In this case, the dreaded concept of synergy may actually be of some use. The AAP’s tentative plan is to haul broadcasters on board via their corporate book publishing brethren, in the hope that the on-air units could pitch in with public service announcements.