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One of America’s most popular writers gave away books when he visited Maine

Biographies, a book of quotes, "Captain Underpants" — that’s what David Baldacci was happy to donate.

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine — Even if he had never written or sold a single book, David Baldacci would still be grateful that at a young age he became a devoted and lifelong reader.

His passion for reading led to a passion for writing, which started with failure (editors rejected all the short stories he wrote at the start of his career) and ended with unimaginable popularity. His novels have been translated into more than 40 languages and sold more than 150 million copies.

With success has come a desire to give back. That’s why Baldacci spoke recently at a fundraising event for the Graves Memorial Public Library in Kennebunkport, the latest of countless appearances he has made over the years to help support and promote libraries and literacy.

“Without reading, without high cognitive skills, people can never reach their potential,” he said. “If you’re illiterate, the chances of your kids growing up illiterate or literacy-challenged are quite high indeed. They’re going to go through that same generational cycle of poverty. And it’s going to repeat itself over and over again. We have to break out of that. It starts with one book and one reader at a time."

Baldacci and his wife founded the Wish You Well Foundation, a nonprofit that supports and promotes literacy programs across the United States, but it’s not the only vehicle for his good deeds.

In Kennebunkport, while visiting the Graves Library, he bought some books from the book sale pile. Then he and his wife stopped at a nearby bookstore and purchased still more books, ending up with about a dozen, all of which they left in a small, free-library box they’d seen in town.

“We had some 'Harry Potters' in there,” he said of the volumes they donated. “We had a James Baldwin. We had a couple of biographies, a book of quotes, stuff for every age group.” 

“I think a 'Captain Underpants' went in there as well,” he chuckled. 

There is nothing feigned, nothing phony about Baldacci’s conviction about the power of reading to change lives. He is, in every way, a true believer.

“Companies like to say, ‘We pay for expertise and knowledge and all that,’” he said. “Well, libraries are free. So go to a library, take a book out, and gain some knowledge.”

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