Many Texas cities or regions in recent years have found it worth their while to host a community-wide reading program. College and university campuses find common reading experiences a great way for a freshman classes to bond. In our state a few years back, Texas Writers Month (May) even featured a statewide one-book program. This year, we’ve heard that the cities of Austin, Dallas, Odessa, and San Antonio are sponsoring common reading programs, along with the Gulf Coast region, which is taking up Anne Wiesgarber’s novel The Promise, set during 1900 Galveston hurricane. What makes such an initiative beneficial, and how do communities go about organizing one, and choose what to read?
We talked to Randy Ham, executive director of the Odessa Council for the Arts and Humanities, about how their One Book Odessa program has grown over the years. Odessa will be reading The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman during the period April 21 to May 23, 2015, and Gaiman will be appearing May 20 at the Wagner–Noël Performing Arts Center in a free, ticketed appearance in conjunction with One Book Odessa. (Follow details on the event's Facebook page.)
LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: How did One Book Odessa start?
RANDY HAM: In 2010, I had returned to Odessa after a stint as a book buyer and author event coordinator for Hastings Entertainment in Amarillo. I had travelled to several cities that had hosted One Book, One City reads, and thought we could try one here in Odessa. I contacted the Ector County Library, the school district, and many other stakeholders to gauge interest. Everyone was very excited, and we began planning our first read.
How many years has your One Book Odessa been going on, and which authors have you selected in years past?
We've done three: 2011, Brad Meltzer; 2013 Erin Morgenstern; 2015, Neil Gaiman.
How are the author(s)/titles selected? Where do you post your criteria?
Accessibility is key. You want to find a title that people will enjoy, and that won't intimidate the first time readers. It has helped to select authors who write for adults and children, so that the family can read together. This year's pick, Neil Gaiman, is perfect in that sense. He has written for adults, children, and middle grade. If you are unsure of his prose, you can always pick up his Sandman comics. Although The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the official pick, we encourage everyone to find a book that they are comfortable with.
What other agencies are involved? Where does your support come from?
We get so much support from the community: the school district, the library, the Friends of the Ector County Library, the Education Foundation, CBS7, the Odessa American, and many more. HEB donated enough money to purchase a copy of Coraline (the young reader's selection) for every 7th grade AVID student in the district. It is so encouraging to see so many people get so passionate about this program.
Can an author “pitch” your city for consideration?
Of course! We're always looking for new and exciting titles.
How many “readers” participate?
In 2013, we had over 2,000 people attend at least one Night Circus [by Erin Morgenstern] event. The library stocked 65 copies of the book, and they were constantly in circulation for the duration of the program.
What aspects of the program in your view would you recommend to other cities? What lessons have you learned that you’d like to share with other cities?
Name recognition of an author is good, but not necessary. A good story, and themes that lend themselves to creating engaging programming go much further. The length of time your program runs is also very crucial: Too long and you lose momentum, too short, and it's over before you get the word out. I recommend no shorter than five weeks, no longer than eight.
Thanks for the information -- we wish you great success with your program!
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Does your town plan a community-wide reading experience for 2015? Let us know so we can add it to our calendar of Bookish Texas events.
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Last October, the Austin Public Library
announced Elizabeth Crook's Monday, Monday as the focus of its 2015 citywide reading campaign.
The San Antonio Public Library Mayor's Book Club chose Solomon Northrup's Twelve Years a Slave for its for spring 2015 community-wide reading experience.
Library branch events and programs include guest speakers. Books may be borrowed or downloaded.
The Dallas Mayor's Book Club, oriented toward young readers, will announce their 2015 pick in June.