Last night over dinner in a neighboring town, the boyfriend and I were sitting near a table of older ladies who started talking about Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, which was the book the local public library chose as the community read.
This isn’t the first time I’ve been in the proximity of a community read, and I’m totally intrigued by the idea. My second year of grad school, the University of Wisconsin, Madison started a community reading program, Go Big Read. That year, students, faculty, staff and community members around Madison read In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan. The year after it was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. This year the community read is Enrique’s Journey by Sonia Nazario.
Doing a “common read” is becoming more common on college campuses. Some universities it as a way to bring incoming freshmen together by giving them something to talk about the first few weeks on campus. Some programs, like the UW-Madison read, aim to bring even more of the campus and community together through speeches and discussions around the book.
I can’t even begin to imagine how challenging it would be to pick a community read. It needs to be general enough that just about any reader could find something to relate to in the text, but it also needs to be specific enough to be meaningful in the community that it’s chosen for. It needs to be entertaining enough to grab even the most reluctant readers, but serious enough that it offers discussion points across perspectives. And it needs to be recognizable enough that it can spark interest, but not so common that the community’s most avid readers have already finished the book.
Even so, I love the idea of a community read. I love the idea that people who wouldn’t normally spend time talking to one another could read the same book and find a way to connect with one another. A community read isn’t going to solve all the difference that people of different perspectives have, but it can give a common source of vocabulary to start understanding one another better.
If you were in charge of picking a community read for your community (define community as you wish), what would you pick and why? Have you ever participated in a community reading program? Thoughts?