Introductions: Anthony Doerr
September 28, 2021
By Rebecca Hoogs, Interim Executive Director
The last time Anthony Doerr spoke for Seattle Arts & Lectures was in the fall of 2015, just a few months after All the Light We Cannot See had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. It was one of those nights that was so spectacular that I joked SAL should close up shop because it could never again be that good. But thank goodness that we kept going, and you kept reading, and Anthony Doerr kept writing—in part, so that our lives could twine us together tonight, six years later, at the end of the pandemic, or in the middle (who knows where we are in this story). We’re tentatively in a room together again, sharing in the communal act of listening together, laughing together behind our masks—living breathing beings leaning in around the fire of story, as humans have done for millennia.
Today is the publication date—or book birthday—of Anthony Doerr’s latest, Cloud Cuckoo Land. The book weaves together three different moments in space and time, three sets of characters, and braids together climate change, eco-terroism, Ottoman history, and more. But most of all, it’s a book about the miracle of a book over time, about the scribes and librarians and lucky breaks that led to its survival. It’s also about all the books, and people, that didn’t survive, that were lost. The New York Times Book Review called it quote ”a humane and uplifting book for adults that’s infused with the magic of childhood reading experiences. Cloud Cuckoo Land is ultimately a celebration of books, the power and possibilities of reading.”
I got to read an advance copy of the book this summer and devoured it in a gigantic gulp in August on a weekend when wildfire smoke socked Seattle in. I watched my eight-year-old son jump into the pool, even though I watched the air quality index rise to unsafe. The book socked my heart in. It is a story that reminds us that we’re all connected, and how delicate and tenuous those threads of connection are. How carefully we must tend to them.
Towards the end of the book, one of the characters finally understands a complicated truth: “We are all beautiful even as we are all part of the problem, and that to be part of the problem is to be human” (568). In these complicated and beautiful times, Anthony Doerr has written yet another book that breaks our hearts in all the best ways.
Thank you, Anthony Doerr, for writing this book and for joining us here tonight to celebrate its birthday, and, in a way, SAL’s rebirth into the in-person world. Please join me in welcoming a master storyteller, a master stretcher of time, Anthony Doerr.
Rebecca Hoogs gave this introduction to open our 2021/22 SAL Presents event with Anthony Doerr—our first in-person event in a year and a half!—on September 28, 2021. Tickets to this online event are still available—get them here!