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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Thursday, March 23, 2006

“If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book” for 2003


[gary daily col. 48 January 12, 2003]
"The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them."
-- Mark Twain


I think it’s time to start beating the drums for “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book” – the 2003 edition.

Perhaps you were hopelessly lost in the Mall of America parking lot or hypnotized by the flicker of 523 channels on your satellite TV and missed the “If All” 2002 edition. Like a fresh breeze coming off of Puget Sound this program wafted its way to and through the Wabash Valley. Very invigorating stuff.

Here’s what happened. Readers in the community voted on which of three books they thought all of Vigo County might read and discuss. The book chosen to be the “If All” selection for 2002 was David Guterson’s fine novel, Snow Falling on Cedars.

Guterson’s book was read widely and intensively. It became the selection of many book clubs in the community; it was discussed at open meetings sponsored by the Vigo County Public Library; copies of the “If All” book were available at all branches of the library and, thanks to a truly inspired idea (and with financial help), copies of Snow Falling on Cedars were also available on a “borrow and return” honor basis at several local coffee shops in Terre Haute.

This program was initiated by the Vigo County Public Library and supported by the Friends of the Library, Terre Haute Tribune-Star, WTWO-TV, Arts Illiana, Indiana State University, and a number of local businesses and community organizations. Again, thanks to all for their support.
Adding to the success of “If All” as a community wide project was Indiana State University’s decision to make Guterson’s book their Summer Reading Program selection. This meant that all incoming students in the fall of 2002 were encouraged to read the book before taking up residence in our Crossroads community.

Many students participated in group discussions of the book during the first year orientation week. Snow Falling on Cedars was used as a required reading in a number of courses at ISU. The Summer Reading Program also sponsored a free showing of the movie based on the novel. This was screened at the Indiana Theater and everyone in the community was invited to attend.

The Indiana State University Speakers Series (free and open to the public each and every year) brought the distinguished Asian-American poet and educator Lawson Inada to campus to speak and discuss his poetry and the meanings of his experiences in a World War II government internment camp. (For the few of you who have not yet read this gripping historical novel, one of these camps play an important role in the story.)

Some people, for whatever reasons, chose not to read the “If All” book in 2002. Some of these are aliterates.

Aliterates are those who can read but throw away a personal skill and art by choosing not to read. They turn their backs on opportunities they cannot begin to imagine. They fail to apply the key of reading to the lock in the door that opens to realms of thought and feeling not available through any other form of communication. Aliterates are sealed in cells of narrow experience. These cells are filled with the treadmill paraphernalia of tired ideas and stale emotions.

“If All” is about using the key of reading to move people out and beyond the cells of sameness and the self-incarceration of the mind and the spirit. This is the drumbeat “If All” moves to.

Hard work made the first ever Crossroads of America reading extravaganza a booming success. It served to bring people together who otherwise would never meet. The program easily lived up to Terre Haute Mayor Judy Anderson’s official proclamation supporting the “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book” initiative.

Parts of the Proclamation read as follows:

“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.”

“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.”

“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. Thus our lives are enriched.”

“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 and spirits and feelings.”
____________________
For 2003, “If All of Vigo County Read the Same Book” has changed in details but not in purpose. The selection process for choosing the “If All” book has been streamlined. Next week’s column will describe these changes and provide some insider information and observations on how the new process worked in practice.

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