What if everyone read the same book?
One Book, One State craze sweeps readers from sea to shining sea

by Jennifer James
Public Relations Director
Oklahoma Arts Council

In the seaside town of Falmouth, Massachusetts the locals read To Kill A Mocking Bird while 3,000 miles away in the coastal town of Cannon Beach, Oregon groups gather in homes and libraries to discuss A River Sutra. Along the Gulf of Mexico in Galveston, Texas, citizens are on the same page with Tortilla Curtain while Alaskans connect with each other through the page-turner Any Small Goodness.

From sea to shining sea book lovers have joined forces to see just what happens when everyone in their town or state reads the same book. It all began in Washington State six years ago. Nancy Pearl, Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book, wanted to initiate a project that would bring together her strongly held belief that talking with a group of people who have all read the same book broadens and deepens a person’s appreciation for literature.

Pearl wrote a grant to the Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund in 1997 and in 1998, "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book" was born. Chicago caught wind of the idea and replicated the program the following year. That project caught the attention of Steven Kisner, the Chicago Bureau Chief for the New York Times, and the idea was catapulted to national headlines as libraries nationwide took note.

Still, the highlight for Pearl, who lived in Oklahoma 21 years before heading to Seattle, was the hometown response. “…Groups of strangers came together at libraries or community centers and became small communities through reading these books,” Pearl said.

At last count, more than 50 cities and states have replicated the program. In Iowa, First Lady Christie Vilsack (left), led book discussions for Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River in a variety of venues, including a minimum-security prison, where some of the men had never even read a book.

“The experience was eye-opening for them, to say the least,” Vilsack said. “In a society bombarded by brief electronic messages, it is valuable to take time to read a book that challenges our vocabulary, our perception of right and wrong, that asks us for a brief time to believe in miracles.”

The Oklahoma version of the project, Oklahoma Reads Oklahoma, embraces the upcoming centennial of statehood, and encourages Oklahomans to examine significant aspects of the state’s history, heritage and culture by reading notable works about the Sooner State. Twenty-two organizations are sponoring this first statewide reading and discussion program.

For more information visit the Library of Congress Center for the Book's page on One Book reading promotion projects.


The Aquinnah Public Library on
Martha's Vineyard has held
special events to promote
their project, One Book, One Island.


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