Building community through reading

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 21, 2014 - 1:44 PM

More cities are discovering the joys of reading together.

In 1998, Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl made her mark with a program called “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book.”

Since then, the “one city, one book” concept has taken off. Similar programs have sprung up all over the country.

In the Twin Cities’ west metro area, several cities are gearing up for read-alongs this year.

Some programs are more established than others, like Eden Prairie Reads, which started a decade ago. Others, like Wayzata Reads, are experimenting with the idea for the first time.

Johannah Genett, a spokeswoman for Hennepin County Library, a sponsor of the read-alongs, said each program takes a slightly different twist on the original idea.

Book selections run the gamut, from thought-provoking to funny, with an emphasis on local authors. One program might focus on a single title, while others examine an author’s entire body of work. Still others delve into certain themes inspired by the chosen book.

But the group reads aren’t strictly intellectual exercises. Whether it’s through conversation about a book or a related workshop or panel discussion, the main goal of the collective reading programs is “building community through connection” across all backgrounds, Genett said.

And that comes through sharing in the joy of reading.

Terri Ziegler, an organizer of Plymouth Reads, which has been around since 2009, said the annual read-along has grown steadily through the years. In her view, the group read is “appealing to people because of the long history of myriad small neighborhood book clubs,” she said, adding, “People are comfortable with this known quantity.”

In some ways, the communitywide read mirrors a book club, “though the whole city doesn’t get together every month to discuss a book,” she said.

Instead, Plymouth Reads is more of an annual program that focuses on one book each year. “We try to pick a book that will spark conversation,” she said.

This year, the group will read “Holiday Inn,” a collection of autobiographical essays by Kevin Kling, a performer, playwright and author who grew up in Osseo.

‘It made me laugh and cry’

“The book seems to resonate with everyone who picks it up,” she said. “When I read it, it lifted me up. It made me laugh and cry. I could relate to it. He’s so good at telling his personal stories, which are universal.”

While thinking about a theme to pull out, Ziegler and other program planners scratched their heads. “We sat back and asked ourselves, ‘What is the core of this?’ He tells so many stories, how do we pick one theme?” she said.

That’s when it occurred to them that the idea of memoir might be of interest. So, to flesh that out, Plymouth Reads will host a memoir-writing workshop as the main attraction of its kickoff event in late March, she said.

To prepare for that, people are invited to contribute six-word memoirs that will be displayed at the library. The micro-memoir can be about someone’s “feelings right now or a theme of their whole life or dreams or wishes,” she said.

For example, a recent submission reads, “We swim in the same water,” she said.

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