On a frigid January morning, about a dozen people (including librarians, academics and me) met at the Maryland Humanities Council to help choose the centerpiece of the 2009 One Maryland One Book program. We debated, pointedly but pleasantly, 10 books culled from a longer list.
The One Book program is designed to spark group discussions across Maryland on multiculturism. So the book had to address issues such as race and identity, appeal to a wide range of readers from different backgrounds, and connect to high schoolers. And there were other considerations: Was the author alive? From Maryland? Willing to participate in the program?
The list was loaded with great reads: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini and Digging to America by Anne Tyler. But we narrowed it to three: The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung by James McBride, and Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama.
Last week, the One Book program announced its 2009 selection: Song Yet Sung, a compelling story of slave traders, runaways and a prophet who foresees the racial challenges of modern America. It takes place on Maryland's Eastern Shore, a land "shrouded in myth and superstition. It was a rough, rugged peninsula, 136 miles long and 55 miles wide at the shoulder, shaped roughly like a bunch of grapes, veined with water throughout." Here walk the Dreamer, Woolman and the Woman with No Name.
The 2008 program, sponsored by the council's Center for the Book, drew more than 6,500 Marylanders to discussions, films and writing contests. Other states and localities run similar programs. For example, Virginians were asked to read To Kill a Mockingbird; Rhode Islanders, Water for Elephants; and Iowans, Digging to America.
"When you look at the goals of the Maryland Center for the Book, we really want to promote literacy and literature around the state of Maryland," says project director Andrea Lewis.
The program begins in earnest in September and October. Read Street will keep you posted on dates and details.
On a lighter and more irreverent note, let's suggest books for other reading programs around the U.S. How about Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers for Hawaii? Or Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat and Crowded for Phoenix?
What are your recommendations? Let us know in an e-mail or a comment on Read Street.