Scout Goes West

One Book, One Denver has announced that its latest pick for its citywide reading effort is Harper Lee‘s To Kill a Mockingbird—which, like last year’s choice, Dashiell Hammett‘s The Thin Man, doesn’t have much to do with Denver, or Colorado, or even life west of the Mississippi River. Understandably, at least a couple of critics have spent much of the last month complaining about the reading program, ever since the list of titles for consideration (it was put up to a public vote) failed to include any books set in the state. The most notable omission was Kent Haruf‘s Plainsong; Westword editor Patricia Calhoun, an advocate for the book, also noticed that the 27 books under consideration were all part of the NEA’s Big Read program. True enough, last Friday it became clear that the city program has received $20,000 from the Big Read.

I don’t have any major issues with the Big Read concept, which seems particularly useful for communities that have little in the way of library dollars or public-arts and literacy programs. And funding is tight everywhere in cities these days, especially when it comes to the arts. But it’s a disappointing situation regardless, one that seems to negate the whole point of the enterprise—much of what these citywide reading programs have going for them is a sense of civic pride, and though the reading choices shouldn’t be boosterish, it should at least feel a little less like going back to high-school English class. (Chicago’s program at least had the good sense to select Sandra CisnerosThe House on Mango Street last spring.) Without any particular reason to feel invested in the program, it’s not much of a surprise that only 2,000 people answered the call to vote for a book the whole city can get behind.

2 responses to “Scout Goes West

  1. Plainsong is a great book, and as much as I loved Mockingbird, it’s really been done to death. You’d think the nominee list would have a least some local relevance for readers. Chicago’s program has done a pretty good job of having a local focus – one of its first selections was Stuart Dybek’s The Coast of Chicago. Then again, Chicago probably has a much larger base of locally oriented books to draw from than Denver does.

  2. Mark Athitakis

    One idea I liked was making “On the Road” part of the citywide read—if you want to satisfy the crowd who’ll only read books they’ve heard of, it’s a relatively provocative choice, plus there’s a sizeable chunk of the book set in Denver, which has some Beat lore to be proud of. See: http://www.denvergov.org/AboutDenver/today_driving_beat_stop1.asp

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