United We Read
Friday, June 17, 2011Posted by Melissa (Avid Reader)
For the past five years I’ve been part of a wonderful committee in a smallish community in Indiana. It’s called United We Read (formerly One Book, One Town) and its goal is to choose one book for the whole county to read and then schedule programming that coordinates with the topics or themes in that book.
The committee is made up of a variety of members of the community, one was the town council president, others were teachers or librarians, etc. I was originally invited to join the panel because I was a reporter at a local daily newspaper. I’ve since moved on to a different job, but for some reason they keep asking me back and I love it! It’s like a book club on steroids.
We meet in the middle of March each year and get the list of books (about 15-20). Then we meet again in April and May to discuss the books and narrow the list. Then we hold our final meeting in June when we decide on the book. It can be fiction/nonfiction, long/short; it doesn’t matter as long as it can appeal to a wide audience.
Past year’s selections have been The Heretic's Daughter (Kent), The Nine (Toobin), Montana 1948 (Watson) and The Soloist (Lopez). Each time we try to find a book that offers up some fascinating issues to discuss, isn’t too “literary” (aka boring for people who don’t read too much), isn’t so popular that everyone has already read it, etc. One of the most important things to achieve is to find a book that is easy to schedule programming around. For example, when The Soloist was chosen, the library scheduled classical concerts, a viewing of the film based on the book and a discussion (with experts) on how mental illness is affected by music.
Cities all over the country offer similar programs, including Chicago, Atlanta, Kansas City and New Orleans. How wonderful is that! Not only is it encouraging literacy, it’s also making it a communal thing. It’s bringing people together to discuss books and dig deep into the issues they bring up.
This has been one of the most satisfying book-related things I’ve had the pleasure of being involved in. No, my favorite book doesn’t always get picked. Yes, sometimes people fiercely disagree on whether a book is good or not, but that’s the joy of having 10 or so people from very different walks of life reading the same book. It’s a lot of work to read all of the books as quickly as possible, but in the end it’s worth it.
So I’m curious, do any of your towns offer something like this?
Also, what books would you recommend for this program? Are there any books that immediately come to mind as being appropriate for male/female/young/old readers?