Baldacci: He's already living the fantasy

Best known for his mega-selling novels, David Baldacci also is a philanthropic kind of guy. In fact, the Virginia Press Association just named him Virginian of the Year, "a nice honor from hardcore, skeptical journalists," he remarks.

Of all the philanthropies Baldacci supports, including organizations fighting multiple sclerosis, childhood cancer, and cystic fibrosis, promoting literacy, he says, "is at the top." And Baldacci can make a convincing case that literacy is more important than universal health care.

"Of the 70 million Americans who are uninsured, probably 50 million are illiterate," says Baldacci. That means they're chronically unemployed because they can't read, and should they ever get health care, they wouldn't be able to read their prescriptions.

Baldacci compares this country's illiteracy to "building a really great house without putting in a foundation." And the implications for the American way of life are dire: "Democracy can't survive without literacy," he says.

The UVA law school grad's passion for literacy makes him a natural Book Festival supporter, and he sits on the board of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Books have played such an important role in Baldacci's life that, he says, "I wouldn't be a writer today without my love of reading."

He lists John Irving, Anne Tyler, and Lee Smith as influences, and he will introduce Smith at the Festival's sold-out luncheon.

His admiration of Truman Capote evokes special memories of the days Baldacci worked as a Pinkerton security guard while going to school.

"I was already scared to go to half the places I should have been checking out," he recalls. "I sat huddled in the guard shack reading In Cold Blood. It scared the bejesus out of me."

Today, it's Baldacci's thrillers doing the bejesus-scaring. With over 33 million books in print in 30 languages and a new title appearing each year, the author of Absolute Power doesn't limit himself to thrillers, or even novels. He also somehow squeezes in screenplays, short stories, and essays.

Baldacci is a veteran of many interviews. What question does he get tired of being asked? "How much money do you make?" His usual response? "More than I should."

And he uses the Hot Seat to clear up two misperceptions: He's from Virginia, not New York. And it's Baldacci, not Balducci. "That's one of the biggies," he says.

Age: 42

What do you like best about Charlottesville? The quiet.

Least? The noise.

Favorite hangout? On a Sea-Doo 4-Tec ripping across the water

Most overrated virtue? Neatness, with sobriety a close second

What would people be surprised to know about you? I'm a worrier.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I'd be less of a worrier.

What accomplishment are you proudest of? I'm no longer practicing law and billing my life in quarter-hour increments.

What do people find most annoying about you? I seem to have no regular job but can still afford nice things.

Whom do you admire? Anyone who has the guts to stand up and say, "I'm not going to do it your way!"

What are you reading now? David McCullough's Johnstown Flood

 What subject causes you to rant? People who complain that America doesn't read but won't get off their butts to do anything about it

What thrills you about life in the 21st century? Seeing if we did a good job with our kids. (Also scares the crap out of me.)

What creeps you out about life in the 21st century? That the world might not make it to the 22nd century.

What do you drive? Suburban for the tough stuff, Mercedes for the occasional night out.

What's in your car CD player right now? Matchbox 20 and Abbott & Costello's "Who's on First?"

What's your next journey? Florida

What's the most trouble you've ever gotten in? When I was 18, I almost got arrested for a B&E at a friend's house. All a misunderstanding.

What do you regret? Nothing significant right now, but I'm sure I'm building up to some serious ones.

Favorite comfort food? Popcorn

What's always in your refrigerator? Nothing or everything, depends on the day of the week and how hungry my kids are.

Must-see TV? Sponge Bob Square Pants with my son

Favorite cartoon? See above. Also with my son.

Describe a perfect day. Summer day at the lake, water skiing and knee boarding with family and friends. Grilling out, grabbing a chair to read a book. Big dinner with wine and craziness until we shuffle off to bed.

Walter Mitty fantasy? I've already had mine for real.

Who'd play you in the movie? Mike Meyers, but only if Elvis really is dead.

Most embarrassing moment? Passing out at my wedding

Best advice you ever got? Never worry about what the other guy is doing. Let him worry about you.

Favorite bumper sticker? "Don't make me get my flying monkeys."