A book in common
The city of Chico and Butte County get in on Chico State’s annual reading program
“Now therefore, be it resolved that I, Andy Holcombe, mayor of the city of Chico, do hereby proclaim that Three Cups of Tea will be the Book in Common for the city of Chico in 2008-2009.”
—City of Chico proclamation, Sept. 1, 2008
It was, of course, less monumental than, say, King George III issuing his Royal Proclamation of 1763 announcing Great Britain’s acquisition of a wide swath of French territory west of the Appalachians. But Holcombe’s reading of a proclamation supporting the city-wide reading of the No. 1 New York Times Best Seller Three Cups of Tea in the City Plaza was—as David Letterman might say—definitely something, not nothing.
“This certainly isn’t something I brewed up by myself,” acknowledged Holcombe playfully of the Book in Common program, before ceding the stage to representatives of various local organizations supporting the book, and to several local actors and high school students who read excerpts. Chico State Vice President for Student Affairs Drew Calandrella noted that the conversation-fostering program has existed at the university for 10 years, but expressed his delight at its going community-wide.
Three Cups of Tea also has been embraced by the city of Oroville as its Book in Common this year, and by the Sacramento Public Library for its One Book Sacramento: Connecting our Communities program. Free tickets for an April 21 lecture by mountaineer-turned-humanitarian Greg Mortenson—who co-wrote the book with journalist David Oliver Relin—in Laxson Auditorium have already “sold out.”
Brooks Thorlaksson, associate dean of humanities and fine arts at Chico State, and the Book in Common’s coordinator for community connections, sums up the excitement: “It’s just amazing how people have jumped on board. There is enthusiasm from so many corners of Butte County. We’ve established a network for reading books and talking about ideas. Everybody was just ready for something that tied us together as a community.”
The amazing, engaging book tells the story of an American man, Mortenson, who ended up on a mission to build schools in the most remote parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan after his 1993 mission to climb Pakistan’s K2 failed. Lost, exhausted and sick, he wandered into the village of Korphe, in northern Pakistan’s scenic and impoverished Karakoram Himalaya region, where he was nursed back to health by villagers. To repay them, Mortenson vowed to return to Korphe and build them a much-desired school.
Thus began Mortenson’s tireless devotion to building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He has built 55 schools to date, often facing incredible obstacles in areas wracked by war and sectarian violence. Education, Mortenson feels—particularly of girls, who will become the mothers raising sons—is the best way to keep people from turning to such extremist groups as the area’s Taliban.
Mahan Mirza, who teaches in Chico State’s Religious Studies Department, is also coordinator of the university’s Middle Eastern Studies program. He praises Three Cups of Tea for its ability to help rid his Introduction to Islam students of the often-mistaken cultural stereotypes they bring to class concerning adherents to the Islamic faith—that they are all “extremists, anti-modern, connected to violence and oppress women.”
“People come to the course with certain misconceptions about Islam, and they need to snap out of it,” said the 35-year-old Mirza in his gentle, articulate manner. Mirza is a Pakistani by birth who came to live in the United States in 1992. “With the book, they see that these Muslim villagers in these very remote areas are just average, normal people.”
Local mountain climber Bill Travers recently presented a talk/slide show at Butte College on his experiences in the Karakoram region, as part of the Book in Common’s calendar of events.
Travers, who has read Three Cups of Tea, and who has hiked on the very same glacier near K2 that Mortenson staggered down on his failed ascent, “really relates” to Mortenson. As a fellow climber, Travers understands Mortenson’s “focused, committed, singular” determination to doggedly pursue his mission, in the same way that a climber pursues the peak of a mountain.
Additionally, Travers insists that Mortensen’s passionate, compassionate school-building “is the kind of diplomacy we ought to be engaged in,” as opposed to business-as-usual from Washington, D.C.
As Mortenson himself told a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer early this year, “We can build an eight-room school for $25,000, so 40 schools can be built for $1 million. One Tomahawk Missile costs $840,000.”