The Walk, Colum McCann and the Joy of Unexpected Discoveries

Does this ever happen to you? You discover someone or something new. Then you see that person or thing all over the place and wonder how you possibly could have missed it all this time? That happened to me recently with Colum McCann. I knew of him, but I hadn’t read him nor knew much about him. And then, bam! He was everywhere I turned.

I owe it all to a blockbuster dinosaur movie. Not exactly a straight line to McCann, but that’s how the best discoveries are made.

One of the movie previews was for the Robert Zemeckis film The Walk – the story of Phillipe Petit’s daring, mad 1974 tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. A few questions by curious children later, and we checked out the great Mordicai Gerstein picture book The Man Who Walked between the Towers. The picture book won the Caldecott medal in 2004. Fairfax County Public Library also owns the book in a kit format which contains the book and a CD audio recording of the book so readers can follow along. In this case, it is narrated by the author. The book also appears in this scholastic DVD along with other inspiring stories. Children who want to learn more about the fate of the World Trade towers and the September 11 Terrorist Attacks can check here.

And here we arrive at McCann. Under the catalog entry for Phillipe Petit was also McCann’s book Let the Great World Spin. Ah – that’s what the popular title from our book club display was about. While the book is about much more than just Petit’s walk, the event is an important backdrop to the story, sets in motion the events and is the glue that holds the disparate stories of the characters together. Some have called it a valentine to 1970’s New York City. McCann’s other books can be found here, including his latest work Thirteen Ways of Looking.

My favorite piece of McCann’s writing? It sounds odd, but it is his victim impact statement. By coincidence, I found the piece not long after reading Let the Great World Spin – see how he’s popping up everywhere? I’m signed up for the New York Times “What We’re Reading” weekly email, and this was one of the stories they featured. (It’s the kind of email you want in your inbox – insightful, funny and amazing stories from around the web that you might otherwise miss.) It’s McCann’s account of a wrenching episode – something that almost seems more likely to have happened in one of his novels than in real life. In June 2014, McCann witnessed a woman brutally assaulted on a busy New Haven street and stopped to help her. While rendering her aid, the attacker returns and beats McCann unconscious. McCann recently spoke at the sentencing trial of his attacker and delivered this statement. What a model of grace.

Not exactly where I would have predicted Jurassic World would lead me. But I’m thankful it did.

- Ginger Hawkins, Patrick Henry Library

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