What would happen if everyone in a city reads the same book together?When the Seattle Public Library launched a city-wide reading program in 1998, their objectives were to develop a new audience for literature and to get people talking. Inspired by the power of reading, Nancy Pearl and Chris Higashi of the Washington Center for the Book had a brainstorm: what if they could get a city as large and diverse as Seattle to read and discuss one book together? "People can go for days at a time not talking to anyone outside their immediate family," said Pearl. "There are precious few opportunities for people of different ethnic backgrounds, economic levels or ages to sit down together and discuss ideas that are important to them: this project provides that opportunity." After Seattle's success, libraries across the United States picked up the idea and started annual reading projects called "One Book, One City," "The Big Read" or "United We Read." The programs were diverse, but their goal was the same: to bring individuals together in the community through a shared reading experience. For their 2009 reading projects, communities from Thousand Oaks to East Lansing, Mich. have chosen Steve Lopez' "The Soloist," an inspiring story of music, friendship and the will to triumph over mental illness. In the book, Los Angeles Times columnist Lopez meet Nathaniel Ayers, a Juilliard-trained musician who is schizophrenic and homeless but playing Beethoven on a two-stringed violin in a noisy traffic tunnel. As Lopez comes to understand Ayers' story, he shares it with his readers, who then donate instruments to support the struggling street musician. The East Lansing community read project sparked an idea for a musical instrument donation drive to benefit Michigan State University's Community Music School in Detroit. After reading the book, people donated musical instruments of all kinds - strings, brass, winds and percussion - to support their local community-based music instruction. Cal State Northridge also selected "The Soloist" for their "Freshman Common Reading" program this year. The school invited the entire freshman class to read and discuss the book with Lopez. Class assignment used the book's themes, from classical music to myths and facts about mental illness. The university has taken a unique approach to involving their freshman class through literature. At a time when many new students feel disconnected and uncertain, CSUN recognizes the unifying power of sharing one book. What could happen if everyone in Downey reads the same book together? In the coming weeks we will discuss other successful "One Book" programs and how you can get involved in Downey this year.
********** Published: September 11, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 21