What's Everybody Reading?

Untitled Document

What's Everybody Reading?

By: Fern Hallman, M.L.n.

A Community Reads project can be a great way to draw a community together by reading the same book at the same time. In 1998, the Washington Center for the Book hosted author Russell Banks for a series of programs and discussion about his novel, The Sweet Hereafter. Since then, communities all over the United States have followed their lead and organized similar events to promote civic unity and increase literacy through the reading of literature.

The Public Programs Office of the American Library Association has compiled a guide to community-wide reads as a resource for librarians everywhere. It outlines how to set goals, choose an appropriate book for your program, develop your program, and market it.


My first exposure to this idea was in 2002, when the Georgia Center for the Book held its "All Georgia Reading the Same Book" program. The book that was chosen was Janisse Ray's 1999 memoir Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. Every time I pass a junkyard in rural Georgia, I think about Janisse and others who grew up in a different world than I did. The book also made me think more about the environment and the diminishing longleaf pine forests.


One of the largest community reads ever organized is taking place right now in New York City: the One Book, One New York program. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah was selected as the book all New Yorkers will read together. A series of events will be held throughout the five boroughs with great support from the mayor's office, the New York Public Library, other sponsors, and celebrities.


Over the past ten years, the National Endowment for the Arts has funded more than 1,300 Big Read programs. More than 4.8 million Americans have attended an NEA Big Read event, and grants have been extended in every congressional district in the country. Among the titles read and discussed are some of my all-time favorites, including In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez; The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri; and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers.


Similar programs are popping up all around the country and the world. The Center for the Book at the Library of Congress maintains a searchable database of these programs and lists the titles that have been selected for each one. Commonly, the authors chosen have local connections and are willing to participate in some way, perhaps by giving a presentation or participating in a book discussion.


A successful community-wide reading event requires a great deal of planning, skill and enthusiasm. Libraries who have sponsored these types of events have found that they help them draw in new patrons and engage their established customer base. The programs encourage a love of reading and bring local residents together. Why not give it a try?