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For the last 14 years, my community has rallied for carefully crafted activities for the area's "One Book One Community"program. From stargazing to movies, musical selections, speakers and more, the events never seem to disappoint.

It is amazing when people file in to attend a program and then leave with high praise and lots of thank you's.  Even more exciting when a capacity crowd fills the venue - people are actually reading!

A casual conversation resulted in the 14-year "One Book One Community" project coming to life in the Winchester area. A superintendent of schools and the public library director discussed the possibility of the community reading the same book at the same time, and the idea grew.

Representatives of local organizations, including a literacy group, local newspaper, school divisions, higher education institutions, and library officials met to decide if it was plausible, and the overwhelming answer was yes.

The first U.S. community to sponsor such a project was Seattle in 1998. Since then, community-wide reading programs have been introduced across the county and around the world.

The wheels began to turn for the local group in 2002, when a subgroup was formed to come up with possibilities for a first read.  About six people read like maniacs for several months. A list was compiled and taken to the main  group.

The discussion was fast and furious as readers defended the choices put before the committee. That list of books provided the first selections of the committee for the next several years.

Choosing a book is not easy and often will result in heated discussions. Criteria for selection include easy to read, not too thick or controversial, not violent or frightening, wide audience appeal,   available in paperback and in Spanish (if possible), and currently in print.

It is especially exciting when the author comes to speak as the culminating event. That has occurred several times for the Winchester group who has hosted Homer Hickam, David Baldacci, Lee Smith, Logan Ward, Sharyn McCrumb, James McPherson, the editors of “This I Believe,” Paul Bogard and Beth Macy.

If the author is not available (deceased, too expensive or doesn’t make appearances), alternative speakers can sometimes be effective. Actress Mary Badham (Scout) visited Winchester when a showing of “To Kill a Mockingbird” was held at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. The book was very popular as a community read and her appearance was to a capacity crowd in two theaters.

In one instance the author and the main character of the book both visited the area John Bassett, the main character of Beth Macy’s “Factory Man,” spoke recently to a sold-out crowd about how he kept his  furniture company alive and well in the United States instead of moving it to China. The author followed his talk the following week with a presentation to the community.

Attendance is definitely higher when the author visits. It is amazing how avid some of the fans are about their favorite authors. Book signings are usually held after the author speaks and often continue late into the evening. 

Events are usually free to include all the citizens but sometimes a fee is charged to cover costs of a special event. Badham’s visit resulted in a great fundraiser for the group but that is rarely the case. Financial backers, including several local businesses, have kept the program afloat.

Many of the authors charge a nominal fee - $2,000 and expenses while others (Baldacci) don’t charge for this type of organization. Promoting reading  and getting their books out to the public is important to the authors so a One Book selection is often desirable. Also, student groups are invited to hear the author speak and often attend a special  program.

We tried  to get the author, Robert Edsel of “The Monuments Men,” to come  one year but his fees were way beyond our budget. Instead, we had a special showing of the movie.

It has been an inspiring and exciting 14 years, bringing books, activities and authors to the general public. Many original members of the core group remain on the committee and are devoted to keep it going. Others have come and gone due to job changes and  schedule conflicts but still continue to support the efforts of the group.

After a recent meeting, I contacted two new representatives on the committee and apologized for our rather rambunctious gathering. Both said how they loved being on the committee and how productive a group it is. We don’t meet often so we make sure we get the job done when we do. One of the new ones vowed to be on the committee the rest of her life!

Frances Lowe

Frances Lowe is a retired journalist and educator, most recently serving as lifestyles editor at a local newspaper.

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