Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

One Book, One City

"A precocious child is more interesting than a repressed firefighter." -Director of the Omaha Public Library, on why To Kill A Mockingbird is superior to Fahrenheit 451 for Omaha Reads 2006

After the success of the Seattle Public Library's pioneering "If All Of Seattle Read The Same Book...," 'One Book, One City' events have been popping up in public libraries around the country with mixed results. While the programs have thrived in some communities, they've fizzled in others. A little research on the topic led me to countless libraries whose programs started with a bang in 2001, only to disappear without a word by 2003.

I'm sure that a lot of this is due to budget cuts or a general lack of interest in the community, but when I look at the uninspired book choices made by many libraries, I have to wonder, are scarce library funds really serving the community best when they're being used to encourage people to read Pay It Forward? Many of the lists look like a cross between an 11th grade English syllabus, the New York Times bestseller list, and a doomed attempt to reclaim the turf staked out by Oprah's Book Club.

That said, a lot of libraries are forced to bow to outside pressures. Like, if the Mayor tells you that she wants to pick Seabiscuit and nothing else will do, goddammit, you can't exactly tell her to stick it in her ear even though you know every interested party has already read it or seen the movie.

And a ton of public libraries do a great job picking books that are truly representative of and interesting to the communities they serve. The best ones pick books that manage to be well-written, yet accessible, relatively unknown, yet appealing, provocative without offending community sensibilities, and classic without being coma-inducing. A mighty tall order.

And the weird thing is, the cities that do it best are the absolute last ones you'd expect. Best Of/Worst Of lists to follow.....

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