Whether you're reading one or writing one, books are most often solitary undertakings. For introverts like me, that's a big part of their appeal; there are few more satisfying ways to spend a quiet afternoon. But books, and the people who read them, can also benefit from a bit of company, as anyone who's imagined herself presiding over her own version of a Jane Austen Book Club can attest (ok, maybe that's just me). Stories speak louder when there are lots of people talking about them, which is exactly what the Charleston County Public Library is hoping will happen over the next six weeks with Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Foer's story of a boy whose father is killed on 9/11 is the CCPL's selection for this year's One Book Charleston County program, which encourages local residents to read and engage with one book through library-sponsored discussions and events. The One Book initiative, which is a national library program, traces its roots back to Seattle's public libraries in the 1990s where it was conceived as both a tool for literacy promotion and a way to build community. "It's a great way to bring the whole community together to discuss one topic, have some shared values, and discuss those values," says CCPL's executive director Doug Henderson. "These [books chosen for One Book] are books that are meant to allow people to have discussions that are open-ended, that really don't have an answer." In the case of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, those discussions will cover subjects like grief, autism, religion, and 9/11; Foer has never been one to shy away from the big topics. Readers can delve a little deeper into any of those subjects, as well as others, with a lineup of CCPL events spread throughout September and October. The YA lit crowd can participate with a virtual scavenger hunt, while younger ones can participate by writing notes to First Responders on paper keys (a key plays a big part in the book, as the main character, Oskar, uses it to search out information about his father). The program culminates in Foer's Oct. 23 visit to the College of Charleston.
What's cool about One Book is that it brings people into the library who aren't regular visitors, or who otherwise wouldn't be reading recreationally. This was definitely the case with last year's selection, Daughters of the Dust, a story of three generations of Gullah women living on St. Helena Island. "That really attracted people to start discussing the culture and the history of this area," says Henderson. "We know that especially that year ... people came here [to participate in One Book] and are still coming back." The library doesn't have many hard numbers on last year's attendance because, thanks to a private donation, they were able to give away copies of the book. This time around, they'll have a clearer picture of how many people participate because the books must be checked out. So far, it's looking good — of the 600 copies that the library owns, 400 are in circulation. And the program doesn't officially begin until Sept. 13. In other words, get your copy now.
Programs like this are reminders of how much libraries have to offer; they're way more than places to check out free books (as if that weren't enough!). Henderson, a believer through and through, says it best: "They're the heart of the community. They show what we think of ourselves as a community."
Well, we at the City Paper think our community is pretty great, so we'll be getting in on the One Book action too. Plus, we just like to read. Keep up with our experiences with One Book and what we think of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close on our Culture Shock blog at charlestoncitypaper.com/blogs/cultureshock.