Whether it’s called a countywide book club, or a “One Book Program,” communities of all shapes and sizes have adopted the concept originated by the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library: People coming together through the reading and discussion of a common book.
Four libraries joined forces to start our own one-book program locally. The Whatcom County Library System and the Bellingham Public Library teamed up with the Whatcom Community College Library and the Bellingham Technical College Library to secure funding grants from the Washington State Library. Chuck and Dee Robinson of Village Books enthusiastically signed on as community partners. The Northwest Indian College Lummi Library, Western Washington University Libraries and several local school districts joined in, and Whatcom READS! was born.
Our goal was simple. Encourage everyone in Whatcom County to read and discuss the same book to create a countywide book club experience. Chuck Robinson immediately proved the value of community partnerships, securing Sherman Alexie as our first author and his award-winning book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian” as our first Whatcom READS! title.
But how would we involve the entire community? How could we go beyond the book? Gradually, the circle of community broadened with book groups reading the title, film screenings at libraries and the Pickford Film Center, presentations by the book’s illustrator Ellen Forney, a poetry slam, a panel discussion and more. We were primed for Sherman Alexie’s in-person visit in 2009.
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That first year was inspiring, with more than 3,000 people attending events. People didn’t just read his book; they talked with each other – about the book, but also about the intersection the book’s themes had with our experiences and our communities. The libraries and community partners knew we were on to something and began planning year two.
There are precious few opportunities for people of different ethnic backgrounds, economic levels or ages to sit down together and discuss ideas that are important to them. This project provides that opportunity.
Nancy Pearl, librarian, NPR commentator, originator of “Seattle Reads”
Each year since has seen new titles, new authors and new partnerships. Tobias Wolfe brought his experiences in Concrete, Washington, to life for many with “Old School.” Jim Lynch’s “Border Songs” took us hyper-local as we explored Whatcom County’s northern border. Elizabeth George had us discussing conflict and murder with her book “In the Presence of the Enemy.”
We discussed World War II through the experiences of island residents and Japanese Americans with David Guterson’s “Snow Falling on Cedars.” Cheryl Strayed took us with her every step of the way on her “Wild” hike along the Pacific Crest Trail. We learned of Whatcom County’s Berlin Olympics connections as we rowed with Daniel James Brown and his “Boys in the Boat.” And last year, Ruth Ozeki had us discussing Zen, bullying and the concept of time with her book “A Tale for the Time Being.” Along the way, we have published anthologies of local writing and poetry, created art in partnership with Allied Arts of Whatcom County and perhaps learned a bit about each other in the process.
‘The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving’
In this ninth year of Whatcom READS!, we’re reading Jonathan Evison’s award-winning book, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.” After a tragedy, the main character, Ben Benjamin, has lost everything. Trying to put his life back together, Ben takes a class called The Fundamentals of Caregiving and is assigned a 19-year-old named Trev, who has Duchenne muscular dystrophy. As Evison puts it, Ben discovers that “his class has done little to prepare him for the reality of caring for a fiercely stubborn, scared, sexually frustrated adolescent with an ax to grind with the world at large.”
At turns hilarious and heart-rending, you’ll fall in love with these characters and root for everything to turn out right. The title is available in book, eBook, audio CD and eAudiobook versions at your local public library and at Village Books.
Don’t miss Evison’s visit, March 9-11, for six free events, including An Evening with Jonathan Evison at 7 p.m., March 10, at Mount Baker Theatre. Information on all events is available at WhatcomREADS.org.
Librarian Nancy Pearl, NPR commentator, former executive director of the Washington Center for the Book, and the originator of “Seattle Reads” said, “There are precious few opportunities for people of different ethnic backgrounds, economic levels or ages to sit down together and discuss ideas that are important to them. This project provides that opportunity.”
Read the book and join in the discussion. What page are you on?
Lizz Roberts is community relations coordinator for the Whatcom County Library System.