Tuesday, November 30, 2010

‘Big Read’ puts everyone on same page

The book arrived from the publisher without any fanfare, wrapped in plain cardboard and sent through the U.S. mail. With no more effort than it took to tear open the perforated strip that sealed the package closed, the small church library that I oversaw was now part of a "common read." What an exciting moment!

My first experience with a common read was just a few years earlier, during an effort to encourage all of California to read John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. My husband and I read aloud to each other from my copy that had been given to me by Beth Volkman, the Calistoga Junior/Senior High School librarian.

It was intriguing, as we read to each other, to know that across the state of California, other people were reading the same book and that, moreover, public events were promoting The Grapes of Wrath. One of those events was organized locally through the efforts of Harold Riley.

My experience taking part in a common read had been very enjoyable so when the organization that oversees our local church selected a common read, I knew that I wanted to make the book available to the members of my church: to give them a chance to have that much more in common with people in other communities, in congregations around the world.

Lake County similarly has a chance to get everyone on the same page, as it were, with a countywide "Big Read" through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The project is being administered through the Lake County Office of Education (LCOE).

The Lake County "Big Read" will officially be launched in October 2011, beginning with the poetry, short stories and essays of Edgar Allan Poe.

According to Robin Shrive, who is the English Department chair at Lower Lake High School, the steering committee chose Poe because many people are already familiar with his work. Shrive said her goal with the Big Read is "to encourage the community at large, and reluctant readers of all ages, to come back to literature."

According to the NEA the Big Read is designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. It cites its findings in 2004 that "not only is literary reading in America declining among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young."

The Big Read aims to address this crisis by providing citizens with an opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their communities.

As a lifelong reader and a volunteer librarian, I support these goals at both the local and national level.

Grant funding is available from the NEA but it requires a local match. The LCOE and the steering committee are seeking community partners.

A dinner and auction is scheduled for Jan. 8 at the Moore Family Winery. Proceeds go toward the one-to-one match that the federal grant requires. Tickets are on sale at various locations, including Big Read partner Mountain High Coffee and Books in Cobb and Hidden Valley Lake.

For more information about The Big Read, visit the NEA's Big Read Web site at www.neabigread.org. For more information about Lake County's Big Read, call Robin Shrive at 994-6471, ext. 2733.

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