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

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Friday, March 24, 2006

“If All” Book for 2003 Chosen-No Injuries to Report

[gary daily col. 50 January 19, 2003]

“To choose is also to begin.” - Starhawk

Readers have a tendency to form strong opinions about favorite kinds of books. In the clumsy jargon of the day which requires everything from religion to recipes be seen through the prism of triumphant capitalism, they are moved by an invisible hand and take “ownership” or become “stakeholders” in what they read.

Be it fiction or non-fiction, mystery or romance, biography or history, James Patterson, Inc. or Jack Kerouac, Beat - readers invariably have great difficulty in shucking off dedication to specific genre or authors. Ink from the pages of books read over the years runs through their veins. And they’re not shy about telling anyone what type of literary serum they take in their regular transfusions.

Keeping this in mind, imagine the problem of bringing a dozen devotees of the printed word together and charging them with the responsibility of choosing THE BOOK for “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book-2003." This is a difficult, demanding, yet exhilarating process.

Some communities detour around the committee step and allow a dictator to choose. At least that’s the word from Chicago. Mayor Daley supposedly handed down the title of his favorite read to a “Citizens Blue Ribbon Committee.” They quickly put a Blue Ribbon stamp of approval on his recommendation. It turned out well. His Honor’s favorite book turned out to be Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. However, choice by enlightened despot has since been abandoned in the Windy City.

New York City is the most notorious case of the “If All” process going haywire. A committee of educators, librarians and bookstore owners decided on Chang-Rae Lee’s complex and rewarding novel, Native Speaker. But wait! In one of those famous New York minutes, groups and individuals once part of the committee challenged the done deal. Letters to the editor and group manifestos flew from Harlem in the north to the Village in the south and spread east along this axis. Other titles, many other titles, poured forth.

More disturbingly, during this contretemps the whole concept of “If All” was challenged.

These challenges have been, I’m shocked to say, almost exclusively grumpy harrumphs from academics along the lines of, “Don’t tell me what I have to read!” As if scholar-teachers worth their salt are not constantly telling colleagues, students and the readers of their reviews what they should or should not be reading. As if suggesting that Professor X, Y, and Z read a single book that the entire community will be reading is not something worth doing, worth supporting.

I’m not certain an “If All” book in the Big Apple ever fell off the committee tree into the hands of readers. The anarchy created in Gotham’s attempt to select a book got so out of hand that Martin Scorcese is considering making a motion picture about it, “Gangs of New York-Part II.”

I am pleased to report the book selection for “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book - 2003" has been made and that the process went smoothly, civility reined supreme. A committee of librarians, academics, and citizen-readers (including this writer) sequestered themselves for more than two hours in a meeting room at the Vigo County Public Library last November and emerged with the “If All” title for 2003. Eleven books were considered. The list of eleven originated in the over fifty nominations received from local book clubs and individuals. (The VCPL website has the list of the eleven books the committee considered.)

Selection committee members read some or all of the books, consulted book reviews and commentaries. In general, we agonized about which one of these works would best serve to attract dedicated readers as well as aliterates to read and discuss the book. The strengths and the weaknesses of each book were reported and discussed. Votes were cast.

I can be no more dramatic than to report that at the end of that very intense meeting, no furniture was broken; no physical cuts or bruises were in evidence; no one stormed out of the room in anger. Rather, there were smiles of agreement and a good feeling that the book selected is a book which has the interest and the power to command the attention of the entire community.

See for yourself. Please make it a point to attend the Brown Bag Program that will be held at the main branch of the Vigo County Public Library this Thursday, January 23, 12:10-12-50 p.m. The “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book” title for 2003 will be officially announced. Sheron Dailey will read selections from the book. Questions and comments on “If All” for 2003 will be entertained.


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