the wonderful world of veena.

12 March 2014

book update: creating room to read [john wood].

  • Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Americanah by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie
  • The Round House by Louise Erdrich
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
  • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
  • The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
  • On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  • Creating Room to Read by John Wood
  • Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
It's so secret that I'm slightly obsessed with Room to Read. They are such a great organization, and I was honored to be able to complete my International Public Service Project with them for grad school nearly 2 years ago. I have continued to follow their work in the time since, and I continue to be amazed at the impact they are creating in the developing world.

A few months before my IPSP in 2011, I read founder John Wood's first memoir Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, the story of how he left his fast-track job with Microsoft to launch a nonprofit dedicated to creating libraries and spreading the love of reading to children across the globe. It was great to read about how the company started and to have more insight into the organization prior to my project.

I've continued to follow Room to Read's work since completing my project, reading updates on their website and blog and organizing a book swap fundraiser with friends in Memphis last October. When the second of Wood's memoirs, Creating Room to Read, was published last year, it was added to my list of books to read.

Where the first book told of the founding of Room to Read, this one focused on some of its highs and lows since its inception and how it has grown over the years. Wood talks about success stories in the schools, the launch of Room to Read's successful local language publishing program, and the children - especially girls - in remote areas who now have access to books and opportunities for continuing education. And he also discusses setbacks, like the big donor who didn't follow through on his promise of matching donations made at a fundraiser, or the couple who pulled their promised $5 million donation after the economic crisis of 2008, and how, throughout it all, the organization stuck with their promises of building libraries and supporting girls' education in developing areas around the world.

It's true that this book might not be for everyone, but as a fan of the work Room to Read is doing in Asia and Africa, it was very interesting for me. There were definitely some 'touchy-feely' parts, but I really liked it on the whole. And I learned some history of countries in Southeast Asia that I didn't previously know, like that Laos was more heavily bombed during the Vietnam War than Vietnam was because of its geographic position, and about the sheer amount of damage that the Khmer Rouge wrought on Cambodia in the 1970s.

I continue to be fascinated by Room to Read and by the amount of work they have done in the area of educating children in the last 15 years. Having had the opportunity to work with team members on all levels and see their work first-hand, I can attest to their professionalism, their kindness, and their 'Get Shit Done' attitude. And it was pretty cool to get to see some of their names mentioned over the course of the book.

This is a book that's going to come highly recommended by me, and I'm looking forward to the day John Wood publishes his anticipated third memoir.

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