Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Monday, December 05, 2005

400 Votes -- Deny and Embrace

[gary daily col. 12 April 14, 2002]

Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. . . . You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms. --Angela Carter (1940–92), British author

Rumor has it that 400 plus votes were cast in the “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book” selection poll. Readers have spoken and their votes have chosen The Book. Are 400 votes a lot or a few? Who can say? What do your think?

On first blush 400 doesn’t seem like very many votes given the number of people who can read in this county. But personally, I am happy and surprised with the 400 decisions readers took the time to make. And I will be happy with the selection they made. Congratulations to those readers who participated in the selection process. This was an important part of what “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book” is about.

There is also the good news that a number of people connected with education in the Valley– Brenda Allen of the Vigo County School Corporation and Jan Arnett and Tom Derrick, co-chairs of the outstanding Indiana State University Summer Reading Program Committee, were early and are continuing supporters of “If All.” These professionals make it a part of their daily work and personal lives to support the values of reading and a love of books. They probably carry small cards on their person declaring, “Books aren’t life, but what would life be without books?”

Of course, the naysayers are still out there. I think I saw a few standing in line waiting to get their copies of Bobby Knight’s ghost written gem signed. (And would you say ghostwriters are to books as designated free-throw shooters would be to basketball?) Those people not enamored with the idea of “If All” reading programs throw around barbed jargon such as “group-think” and “herd mentality” in their characterizations of community-wide reading initiatives. These slurs are simplistic and cloak fears and rationalizations which cannot be supported. Here’s my response to such remarks.

It is truly said that one cannot step twice into the exact same spot in the river of time. The currents of history move along leaving all of us looking backward or forward but never at exactly the same bit of the stream.

Books would appear to be a much more static piece of the world. For example, we hold a volume firmly in our hands, we turn to page 148 in, say, Barbara Kingsolver’s High Tide in Tucson. Our eye catches a sentence and we read: “I want my child to be so completely familiar with differences that she will ignore difference per se and really see what she is looking at.” An interesting and hopeful idea set firmly in place. Right?

But now invite three people to read “The Spaces Between,” the essay containing this sentence. Then ask them what this sentence means. What does “really see” mean? Does this one sentence state an unqualified truth to be pursued? If it does, what policies and actions–personal and public–could ever be put in place to make this truth a reality? Is this “really see” something people want for their children or is it something for other children, other parents? Are human beings capable of “ignor[ing] difference”? Can’t difference be a good thing, something to cultivate and celebrate? And on and on . . .

The book sits still and firm in our hands. The sentence, the words in the sentence, sit
steady and solid on the page. But the reader of these words–through the amazing engine of mind, memory, and experience-- roams and flails about, grasps and resists, denies and embraces what that still, steady, and solid sentence on page 148 is saying.

Readers only rarely step into the same book.

Critics of “If All” reading programs somehow miss this crucial point. When a community reads and discusses thought-provoking books they are not being cast into some kind of machine for homogenizing thought and taste. The several hundreds of readers who voted in Vigo County’s “If All” selection process did not cast votes for the same reasons. In a sense, they did not even read the same books!

The unique “Readers Choose” idea was designed to be only one part of the “If All” initiative. On Thursday, April 18th, noon, at the Vigo County Public Library, that choice will be announced. The Book will be unveiled and those who missed the chance to read and vote for the selection will have the opportunity to be part of the big “If All” program, Phase Two.

You should make a pledge to yourself to read The Book, the title will be announced on Thursday, and to participate in the discussions that will be taking place around Terre Haute. Get out and see if you can find someone who read the same book as you.

*****

Mayor Judith A. Anderson's Proclamation in Support of "If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book"

Whereas; We live in a community which honors writers and the books they create. In doing so we honor ourselves; and

Whereas; We recognize the printed word in the form of books as being artistic and intellectual vehicles which can transport us to worlds we may never visit and introduce us to people and ideas we might otherwise never meet or know; and

Whereas; We also understand that part of the magic of reading good books is that they reintroduce us to ourselves and to those we love and respect; and

Whereas; We understand that in reading the works of literary artists we experience life from perspectives which stretch our imaginations and touch our emotions, and that when we finish reading a book of quality, our habits of thought take on new shapes and wrinkles, and thus our lives are enriched; and

Whereas; We live in a place we call the “Crossroads of America” and find it fitting to recognize that reading and books is also a “Crossroads” of minds, spirits, and feelings.

NOW, THEREFORE: I, Judith A. Anderson, Mayor of the City of Terre Haute, on this Spring day, April 18, 2002, and for the days and years of Spring to come, in this place, the Vigo County Public Library, do hereby proclaim our community a

“CITY OF READERS”

in Terre Haute, Indiana, and further proclaim that the citizens of this great Crossroads City shall individually and together explore, enjoy, and enrich themselves in the reading of David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars, the book which readers in our community have chosen in order to examine and experience what it might mean:


If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book

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