Get ready to read a book, y’all — One Book

Belinda Gergel called me — and 150 or so other people — a week or two ago and asked me to be part of the effort to get Columbia to read a book together.

She called me because I’d been there before. Way back at the end of the last century, I read something about the Seattle librarian who came up with this idea to get everybody in the city to read a book together. The idea caught on, and other cities started doing thesame. I asked why not Columbia as well (or did I ask why not South Carolina? I forget, and can’t find my columns about it)? The idea appealed to my communitarianism. I’m all about reading, and books, and ideas, and when I’m reading a book I like to talk about it, and I could think of few things cooler than reading a really good book, and wanting to talk about it, and then having the satisfaction of everybody else I ran into having read it, too. Y’all are familiar with my frustration that it’s hard to find anyone other than Mike Fitts who is as into the Aubrey/Maturin universe as I am — Tolkien fanatics have their support groups, but what about those of us who want to read O’Brian over and over? Confession here — I’m now progressing (if one can call such “Groundhog Day” repetition progress) through my fifth reading of Desolation Island. Anyone want to talk about the charms of Mrs. Wogan, or the horror of seeing the Waakzaamheid go down with all hands in the Roaring Forties? Anyone? Anyone? That’s what I thought.

But I digress, as usual.

Claudia Brinson and I, with the help of some nice folks over at the SC Arts Commission, then launched an effort to get everyone to read Fahrenheit 451. My choice, of course. And it was moderately successful — I spoke to some book clubs that joined in the effort. Then we were going to do it again, but we couldn’t agree on a book (the committee wanted to go in one direction, I wanted to go in another), and it just sort of petered out.

But now Belinda, and the Richland County Public Library, are launching the effort on a grander scale. The above picture is from a reception at the library Thursday night, where Belinda addressed the core group she had assembled so she could send us out as book missionaries. We got buttons to wear and everything (I still have a bag full of buttons with the numbers “451” in flames, which I ran across when I was cleaning out my office at The State.) The reception was nice, although I didn’t see any beer. Just wine. Belinda urged us to enjoy ourselves but to be in by 2 a.m. That got a good laugh, as everyone imagined this bookish crowd running riot in the streets into the wee hours.

Here’s some info Belinda sent out after the reception:

What is One Book, One Columbia?

The City of Columbia and Richland County Public Library (RCPL) have joined forces to launch their first citywide reading adventure, One Book, One Columbia, and all residents of Columbia and Richland County are invited to read the book between April 1 and May 15 then share their experiences with friends and neighbors. Numerous discussions and programs centered around the book will take place during the reading period.

What book has been selected?

The first selection for this annual occurrence is Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years by AmyHill Hearth, Elizabeth Delany and Sarah Delany. This best-selling book tells the story of two remarkable sisters, career trailblazers, who charted their own path in the world, guided by the strength they gained from faith and family. The incredible stories of “Queen Bess” and “Sweet Sadie,” as they were known to their family, were captured by one-time Columbia resident and author Amy Hill Hearth. Upon its publication in 1993, The New York Times said of Having Our Say: “The Delany sisters were taught to participate in history, not just witness it, and they have the wit to shape their history with style… they make each memory vivid…they are literature’s living kin.”

How can I participate?

Read the book

The book is available at RCPL locations, or is available for purchase at Barnes and Noble and other retailers.

Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors about the book

Get your friends and family in on the act! An important aspect of the One Book experience is talking about what you read with others. Be on the lookout for residents wearing a One Book, One Columbia button around town – these Reading Advocates will definitely be ready to talk Having Our Say!

Participate in a One Book, One Columbia book club or event

RCPL will have special One Book, One Columbia book club meetings and events throughout April and early May at their branches. Other community organizations are getting creative with their plans: discussions, art, historic tours, and activities for kids are just a few of the ways the community has embraced the One Book, One Columbia effort. Visit for full details.

Get connected

Visit the One Book, One Columbia page on Facebook and “like” to get all of the latest news.

I invite all of y’all to get involved, especially if you’re in a book club or something.

Now, before you say, “But that book doesn’t interest me,” allow me to be brutally honest, or perversely contrarian, or whatever: I wouldn’t have picked this book, either. It’s the kind that most modern book-clubby people would pick. It’s definitely the kind Belinda would pick — hey, it’s the kind of book Belinda would write. But it’s not exactly the first thing I’d grab off the shelf.

How should I put this? There’s a cultural divide here, perhaps effectively symbolized by the fact that there was wine at the reception, but no beer. I’m not saying that to be critical, far from it. I’m just… well, I’ll get to my point in a minute. I’m just saying, different strokes and all that.

This is related to the trouble we had coming up with a second book back when I tried to start a movement like this. I wanted to read another book like the Bradbury one. I wanted something else from the modern canon, the kinds of books that were required reading when I was in high school: 1984, The Sun Also Rises, Brave New World, Crime and Punishment if we wanted to get heavy, Catch-22, Steppenwolf, Stranger in a Strange Land, or if we wanted to be more modern, High Fidelity. I definitely would have been up for Huck Finn. The rest of the committee wanted … something by a contemporary author, someone one could invite to come speak and participate, preferably Southern, probably a woman. Hey, I was willing to read a book by a woman — but the committee rejected To Kill a Mockingbird, probably because they thought it too obvious or trite or whatever.

Thing is, there aren’t many books by living authors that interest me enough to want to read them with a group and discuss them. And I’ve also got this thing of wanting to read books I like over and over. (How about that Mrs. Wogan, huh? Anyone?) But there’s also the problem that I’m not that interested in the kinds of books that book clubs read. The last time I knew of a book club reading a book I wanted to read (aside from the Bradbury book, and I instigated that), it was James Fallows’ Breaking The News: How the Media Undermine American Democracy, which I had reviewed in the paper and a Heathwood book club asked me to address them about. That was 1996. Mostly, book clubs want to read, well, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother or some such.

This book that Columbia is going to read isn’t exactly that, but it isn’t exactly the sort of thing I usually read, either. It’s… social history, judging it by its cover. I’m an old-school Great Men Fighting Wars kind of history buff, and that’s what I tend to read when I read nonfiction.

Which is why — and this is where I come to my point (remember, I promised I would) — it’s probably a good idea for me to read this book. And why you probably should, too. Broaden our horizons.

Also, I’ve promised I would. I’ve been wearing the button and everything. I’d best go get a copy. I’ll keep you posted — and we can discuss it. Which will be cool.

The kind of biographies I USUALLY read...

11 thoughts on “Get ready to read a book, y’all — One Book

  1. tired old man

    I’m in.

    How about Keith Richards’ Life?

    Here’s what Barnes and Noble says:

    The long-awaited autobiography of the guitarist, songwriter, singer, and founding member of the Rolling Stones. Ladies and gentlemen: Keith Richards.

    With The Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the songs that roused the world, and he lived the original rock and roll life.

    Now, at last, the man himself tells his story of life in the crossfire hurricane. Listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records, learning guitar and forming a band with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones. The Rolling Stones’s first fame and the notorious drug busts that led to his enduring image as an outlaw folk hero. Creating immortal riffs like the ones in “Jumping Jack Flash” and “Honky Tonk Women.” His relationship with Anita Pallenberg and the death of Brian Jones. Tax exile in France, wildfire tours of the U.S., isolation and addiction. Falling in love with Patti Hansen. Estrangement from Jagger and subsequent reconciliation. Marriage, family, solo albums and Xpensive Winos, and the road that goes on forever.

    With his trademark disarming honesty, Keith Richard brings us the story of a life we have all longed to know more of, unfettered, fearless, and true.

    The Barnes & Noble Review

    [Richards] has never looked more battered, but has never sounded more lucid. This is a fascinating book by a flawed man still settling his scores, but his pages on those riffs are a must for anyone who wants to dig into the mystery of “Street Fighting Man,” “Brown Sugar,” “Gimme Shelter,” and those other songs that seem impervious to decay. They are as big as Life and still too large for Richards to fully comprehend: “It’s like a recall of something and I don’t even know where it came from!”

    Read the Full Review
    The New York Times Book Review – Liz Phair
    The most impressive part of Life is the wealth of knowledge Keith shares, whether he’s telling you how to layer an acoustic guitar until it sounds electric…or how to win a knife fight. He delivers recipe after recipe for everything rock ‘n’ roll, and let me say it’s quite an education…James Fox, Keith’s co-author, deserves a lot of credit for editing, organizing and elegantly stepping out of the way of Keith’s remembrances. Reading Life is like getting to corner Keith Richards in a room and ask him every thing you ever wanted to know about the Rolling Stones, and have him be completely honest with you.

  2. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Heard in an Icelandic film:

    “Why do Marlboro cigarettes have white filters in North America and yellow ones in Europe?

    –So Keith Richards can tell which continent he’s on.”

    I am glad Columbia is reading one book, but I’m busy reading a really good one by Siri Hustvedt (Mrs. Paul Auster, FWIW)–`”The Summer Without Men”–I would imagine the women and the poets in this group would enjoy it.

  3. Kiki

    ha — one of my book clubs did just read “Tiger Mother”. However in the other we’re reading a book about WWII, when the Nazis occupied the Channel Islands, so maybe book clubs have something to offer that is closer to your cup of tea. (Of course, it’s mostly a star-crossed love story about a Nazi and a local girl, and nobody captures a single Luger, so maybe not …)

  4. Ralph Hightower

    I recommend Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. It’s not just a story about a father and son trip on a motorcycle, but an analysis into values, quality.

    I’ve read the book twice and underlined significant passages in the book.

  5. Doug Ross

    I tried to read the Keith Richards biography. Gave up after 50 pages. It was dull and left out the sex part of sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.

    A far better book would be “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand. Best book I’ve read this year.

  6. Mark Stewart

    Another reason why Belinda is a cultural anchor, not a beacon.


    As if there can be a story shared by all. When the majority can share something like this, a culture is in steep decline and approaching the crash point.

    Give me a vital, vigorous cultural divergence any day. Give me a society with a future. And yes, let’s all promote ideas and literacy. But each in his or her own way. One cannot dictate a foundation; only add one’s labor to its ever-evolving creation.

  7. Joanne

    Haven’t we done this already with Fahrenheit 451?

    Not that it’s a bad idea, but I’ve already read it.

    It’s good.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *