Magazine article Book

Group Therapy: Community Reading Can Help Get Everyone on the Same Page. (Group Dynamics)

Magazine article Book

Group Therapy: Community Reading Can Help Get Everyone on the Same Page. (Group Dynamics)

Article excerpt

WHEN A HUNDRED PEOPLE CROWDED INTO AN AUDITORIUM IN Boise, Idaho, to discuss the 1981 novel Housekeeping with its author, Marilynne Robinson, the conditions weren't exactly what event organizers had hoped for. This was September 15, after all--just four days after the nation-shaking terrorist attacks. After the hijackings and subsequent disasters, the people behind Boise's "What If Everybody Read the Same Book" considered canceling the events. But ultimately it was an easy decision to go forward, says Dan Popkey, who initiated the program: They felt the community needed it. And so while the government had grounded all planes, Robinson came to the discussion from Iowa City, Iowa--or at least her voice did. Audience members were literally sitting on the edge of their seats, craning their ears toward the speakers to hear a live audio feed. Moderator Anna Webb says one man, convinced that he had grown up in the book's fictional town, quizzed Robinson on the town's layout. Another man brought what looked like a 300-year-old Bible with him and shared the family stories about it. Says Webb, "It was a way for the community to make more personal connections."

Bringing people together has been the goal of these popular programs since the Washington Center for the Book started its citywide reading group in Seattle in 1998. Nancy Pearl, executive director of the center at the Seattle Public Library, says, "There were not nearly enough ways for communities to get together and discuss important issues, and important issues come when you're discussing great fiction."

That first year, the center in Seattle chose The Sweet Hereafter as its inaugural selection and distributed 5,000 buttons that said "I'm reading Russell Banks" with the hope that people would see other button wearers in line at checkout counters, bus stops, banks--and start talking. …

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