Finding Unity in the Community: Common Reads Titles that Bring Us Closer

BIC Director, Christie Hinrichs

BIC Director, Christie Hinrichs

When Books In Common/Terra Com was founded in 2001, Community Reading Programs as envisioned by pioneering Seattle Librarian Nancy Pearl were in their infancy. Since then, BIC has connected with thousands of literary programs across the globe, helping event planners as they face the sometimes daunting task of selecting the perfect book for their communities, partnering with the author, and ensuring that their specific goals are met and exceeded – year after year. We focus on these important programs because we passionately believe that building common ground around literature is one of the best ways to bridge the divide among race, religion, socio-economics, sexual orientation, politics, and cultural identities.

Now, more than ever, these objectives are at the forefront of our work. As a nonprofit literary events consultancy, we are in the unique position of being able to approach each program holistically. We want to know who your readers are, what they care about, and how we can help you identify a title that will resonate with the community at large. As lifelong readers and patrons of literature ourselves, we aren’t swayed by the demands of the publishing market, but instead seek to collaborate with each program and advocate on their behalf to ensure an enriching and transformative experience!

What factors are at play when selecting the right title for your community?

Know your readers: It goes without saying that a book that speaks to readers in Southern California may not be as successful in rural Maine. Likewise, a title that flies off the shelf in affluent neighborhoods possibly won’t resonate for those who struggle to make ends meet. Think about what’s happening in the place where your readers live… What keeps them up at night? What forces are at work in their everyday lives? By its very nature, literature is an empathetic medium—we put ourselves in the shoes of our favorite characters, and walk with them through both unimaginable struggle, and joyful resolution.

Timely topics: Think about important anniversaries or relevant social issues upon which your program can capitalize. One Common Reads program we work with identified foster-care reform as an important issue for its inner-city families, and chose Regina Calcaterra’s moving memoir Etched in Sand to coincide with National Foster Care month. Another saw an opportunity with the landmark release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman this summer, and selected Marja Mills’ The Mockingbird Next Door to celebrate an American icon.

Focus on your goals: The majority of our most successful programs identify their goals early and make programming decisions with these goals firmly in mind. They don’t limit themselves to bestseller lists or most-borrowed titles, but think outside the box to identify a title that serves a dual purpose: to bridge diversity AND get readers engaged in a dialogue. While there are many literary events hosted by schools and libraries designed to get people reading and support literacy, the Common Reads format was designed with a profound and singular goal: to bring diverse people together around a common theme; a book that engages a diverse readership. It’s easy to get distracted from this important goal by trying to use your Common Reading event to promote literacy, encourage reading, or promote your other services. The One Book, One City/School programs that have been the most gratifying are those that focused on bridging diversity through reading a common book.

A wonderful example of a title selection designed to champion diversity is Laura McBride’s We Are Called to Rise. This debut novel has garnered incredible reviews but you won’t find it on many national bestseller lists—yet. It addresses the growing racial tensions within communities, as well as issues of immigration, foster care, ethnic diversity, war vet PTSD, cultural divides in communities, and how to bridge those divides. We Are Called to Rise explores one fateful incident through the eyes of several wildly different characters, and it’s been a runaway Common Reads success–due in large part to its perfect blend of topics and great writing, along with the gracious and charismatic participation of the author.

All too often, it’s our differences that define us. But the most generative and powerful Common Reads programs find a way to emphasize how we are the same, and how our struggle to understand ourselves in an increasingly divisive world can be eased through a dialogue with each other. After all, at BIC we believe that the end of the book is the beginning of the conversation.
As the industry experts in Common Reading programs, Books In Common is here to help! Wondering which titles have a proven track record of bringing readers together around important issues that concern all sectors of a community? Take a moment to peruse these authors—who are as powerful in person as they are on the page.

● Laura McBride, We Are Called to Rise
● Garth Stein, The Art of Racing in the Rain
● James E. Mills, The Adventure Gap
● Michael Hingson, Thunderdog
● Stephen Harrigan, Remembering Ben Clayton
● Brando Skyhorse, The Madonnas of Echo Park
● Regina Calcaterra, Etched in Sand
● Reyna Grande, The Distance Between Us
● Dave Eggers, The Circle
● Christina Baker Kline, Orphan Train
● Forrest Pritchard, Gaining Ground
● David Treuer, Rez Life
● Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Under the Mesquite
● Ellen Urbani, Landfall

This entry was posted in All Campus Reads Programs, Books In Common, Christina Baker Kline, Common Reads Programs, Community Reads Programs, Enrique's Journey, Guadalupe Garcia McCall, Guadelupe Garcia McCall, Issue #12, James Edward Mills, Laura McBride, Marja Mills, Orphan Train, Regina Calcaterra, Reyna Grande, The Mockingbird Next Door, Uncategorised and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.
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