Stories from middle America

The email grabbed my attention like no coupon ever could.

“You’re eligible for a Klout Perk!” the subject line exclaimed in bold type. I immediately abandoned anything work-related. A quick, breathless scan, and I discovered my perk this time around was a book — I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. (Klout, you know me too well!)

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

Crunching my recent social media posts led Klout computers to the correct assumption that I am a reader. Last March I became development director of the Omaha Public Library Foundation and, admittedly, have populated my Facebook and Twitter accounts with updates about my work at the library.

(What can I say? When I’m excited about something, I talk about it. A LOT.)

My days are focused on securing private dollars for the Omaha Public Library system: its twelve branches, patrons, programs, services, and staff. For years I was an Omaha Public Library patron; today, I am one of her biggest champions. Last year our tiny, two-woman staff raised more than $1 million for the library and started a young professionals group of library supporters called the 1877 Society.

Omaha Public Library

All of this activity and online chatter must have told Klout I love the library (and possibly that I could use some other topics to tweet about). Knowing very little about the thriller genre and even less about the author, I accepted Klout’s free gift and eagerly awaited the arrival of my new read.

The book landed with a thud on our front porch. I tore open the thick cardboard envelope and dropped the book near my sewing machine and knitting needles. And there, among so many other colorful pastimes, it sat. Until a few weeks later, when I grew temporarily tired of the comfy, cozy fiction by Debbie Macomber and cracked open I Am Pilgrim.

For the past several months, Pilgrim and I have become quite close. It’s a book not to take lightly, literally. The hardcover edition boasts more than 600 pages.

Having been heavily influenced by the librarians I work with, I first did my research. For example, I learned that Pilgrim is Hayes’ first book. A screenwriter by trade, Hayes is credited for films such as Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior.

The story unfolds through (fictitious) dark and gritty circumstances surrounding the 9/11 terrorist attacks. It mentions Osama bin Laden, of course, but also smartly connects a heinous New York City murder, a super-secret agent, the threat of a smallpox epidemic, an international terrorist, and the suspicious murder of a wealthy American.

Hayes takes us around the globe as one chance encounter, one horrific crime, one unbelievable turn of events leads to something else entirely. Some of the murder scenes (beheadings and the removal of one’s eyes, to name two of the worst) are difficult to stomach, but my curiosity pushed me page after page.

I was mentally and emotionally fatigued upon finishing Pilgrim, but I am certain to read Hayes’ newly released follow-up: The Year of the Locust. But not before I return to something a little lighter first.

Lena Dunham, anyone?

Dogeared is Wendy Townley’s monthly column on COOP, where she writes about all things literary. Sometimes that means the new paperback stuffed in her Vera Bradley bag, sometimes it’s her latest library treasure, and sometimes it’s her own thoughts about this magical thing called writing.

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