Saturday, June 09, 2007

Read the Book, Contribute to the Cause

Masha Hamilton’s novel The Camel Bookmobile tells the story of a restless American librarian searching for more meaning in her life who travels to Africa to help start a library carry books to remote settlements on the backs of camels. The bookmobile divides the semi-nomadic people it intends to serve: Scar Boy, the village teacher Matani, and others embrace it, seeing it as a much needed taste of the outside world, while Matani’s wife, her father and others fiercely oppose it, viewing it – and the librarian herself – as a dangerous and corrupting force. The settlement disintegrates under these pressures, while the librarian learns that cultural chasms can confound the best of intentions and doom an unexpected love.

Masha Hamilton, is a journalist and the organizer of The Camel Book Drive, a real-life campaign to get books to Kenya’s mobile library. Though the subject of Hamilton’s novel The Camel Bookmobile, the camel-borne library actually exists. It operates from Garissa in Kenya’s isolated Northeastern Province near the unstable border with Somalia. With the publication of her novel, Hamilton decided to organize the Camel Book Drive, creating an easy process for booklovers to send their books to the real camel bookmobile in Northern Kenya.

Best-selling authors, agents, librarians, publishers, booksellers, businesses and readers have joined the drive both donating to the cause and helping to spread the word. More than 195 writers have signed up to participate in the Camel Book Drive including Michael Chabon, Isabel Allende, Maeve Binchy, Jeanette Winterson, Amy Tan, Neil Gaiman and Susan Cheever.

The camel bookmobile brings books to semi-nomadic people in Northeastern Kenya who live with the most minimal of possessions, suffering from chronic poverty and periodic drought. I visited the region during a period of drought and made several runs through the African bush with the bookmobile,” says Hamilton. “I cannot describe how moving it was to see the people, particularly children, crowding around as the traveling librarians set up a straw mat under an acacia tree and spread out the books. The excitement is palpable.
To learn how you can donate to the drive visit and

(From Richard Hopkins)

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