United We Read

Friday, June 17, 2011


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?

7 comments:

Falaise said...

Melissa,

It sounds fantastic. Living in London, I don't think there is anything remotely similar going on here.

On a different note, I read the Nine last year and found it a fascinating insight into the Court. It was interesting to compare it to Bob Woodward's the Brethren.

Kristi said...

That sounds amazing. We don't have anything like that here. I wish we did though. I can't think of any books to recommend. That must be difficult finding books that have a broad appeal.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Falaise - I loved The Nine. The premise makes it sound boring, but Toobin made it so fascinating.

Kristi - It is difficult, but when you find a good one it's great to see the variety of people who participate in the programming.

wordsandpeace said...

Yes, my library/city does it too, I'm in a 40,000 people suburb of Chicago.
we started in 2009.
we did: Shadow Divers, an incredible book. see here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9530.Shadow_Divers.
the author was invited to speak.

in 2010, we did an author: Joyce Carol Oates, featuring lots of her books. She gave a talk in the College of your city.

this year it's a theme: the Civil War, with movies, speakers, special sales in the city.

I can tell you that in 2012 we'll do the mysteries genre, and invite a famous Chicago mystery writer - I cannot give any name here, as this is not public yet.

I read and loved shadow divers, but at the time, I was not blogging seriously. and I hate JC Oats!! and have not read anything yet this year on the Civil War, so I have nothing on my blog related to that.
I invite you anyway to come and visit:
http://wordsandpeace.wordpress.com

Emma @ Words And Peace

Jenners said...

What a neat thing to be a part of!!! I think it you had some good choices, and I love how you "supplemented" the book with other events as well.

I vaguely remember seeing something about "One Book for the State of New Jersey" but it wasn't promoted very well and I don't know how they managed to pull it off. I also can't remember th book.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

What an ambitious project! No, my community doesn't have anything like this. =(

Then again, who am I to gripe? Even if we did, I probably wouldn't join in because I have such trouble coordinating my reading even with friends in a small-ish book club. =P Still, I can see beyond my ridiculousness and can tell that this is a great project.

How does your community decide which books to read?

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

wordsandpeace - So far I haven't found any JC Oates I've loved either.

Jenners - I think a lot of times these programs aren't advertised well. I wish more people knew about the things their libraries host.

Enbrethiliel - The committee that I'm on picks the book. We read a bunch of different suggested ones over a few months and then decide.