Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Newtown Reads One Book

As a writer, I have a vested interest in reading. The more reading the better, I say, and I walk around with a low-level concern about reading in this country. Between television, video games, and non-verbal activities on the internet (YouTube and Farmville, as two examples), I worry that people are reading less.

I was therefore delighted to join the committee that is organizing the third town-wide reading event. According to the Library of Congress website, "The 'One Book' movement began in 1998 when Nancy Pearl, executive director of the Washington Center for the Book in the Seattle Public Library, initiated "If All Seattle Read the Same Book." With funding from the Lila Wallace Reader's Digest Fund and several local sponsors, she invited members of the public to read the novel The Sweet Hereafter by Russell Banks, and brought the author to Seattle for three days in December to discuss his book in a series of free public programs."

This will be the third time our library and town has held such an event. In 2003, the committee selected April Morning by Howard Fast and in 2005 To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The committee's challenge, of course, is to pick a book that is (a) in print, (b) available in paperback, and (c) reasonably priced. We are also looking for a book that will appeal to a variety of ages (14 to 84), will inspire a variety of supporting activities and discussion points, and will not piss off too many members of the community.

It seems to me that any book we pick is going to disturb someone. After all, as someone wrote about To Kill a Mockingbird in an Amazon review, "In my Junior English class this year I was forced to read this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. First, what was the PP committee thinking? Yes it was 1961, yes it was the Civil Rights Movement, yes a lot of people used WAY too much pot, but none of those arguments can explain why this obvious, saccharine mockery of a novel won anything, including publication rights. I kept thinking that 'it has to get better,' but it DOESN'T! The characters are flat and cariacatured—everyone does exactly what a Disney-style movie would like them to do. Because of this, there is no real definition to the characters and you can't care about them—believe me, I tried—under threat of death by English teacher. Also the symbolism is blatant beyond belief. She actually tells you directly what the symbols are and what they mean—defeating the whole purpose...."

Our committee has thrown out a long list of possible titles including The Namesake, Sailing Alone Around the World, The Book Thief, Lost in Place, Into Thin Air, Into the Wild, The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Girls of Tender Age, The Coldest Winter Ever, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the Sea, and a couple dozen more. Eventually, we'll winnow this down to a short list of five and ask the community to vote on a finalist.

Meanwhile, I have a whole list of what sound like interesting titles to look into. Stay tuned.

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