Each year, the Watertown Free Public Library chooses a book, encourages everyone in the community to read along with us, and hosts a variety of programs related to the book. We call this community read One Book, One Watertown. Recently, I was asked, “Why do a community read at all? People have different tastes and find books in a variety of ways; why should everyone read the same thing at the same time?”
A community is many things. Some portion of it comes down to simple geography – we all live and/or work in close proximity. But isn’t it more? As I saw T-shirts and banners in the past month proclaiming us “Watertown Strong,” I couldn’t help but feel that our sense of identity runs deeper than sharing a common point on a map. What makes us a community? What ties us together? Is it some sense of a common past? A shared vision of the future? Ideally, a community shares hopes and dreams, and creates institutions that serve to tie each of our fortunes together for the benefit of all. This lofty ideal is exemplified daily by our public schools, public libraries, and community police and fire services.
Reading can take us to new places - books can electrify our imaginations, educate, warn, inspire, ridicule, enlighten, and entertain. When a community of people with diverse backgrounds and interests makes a commitment to read a single book together, strange and wonderful magic can happen. What happens when a 16-year-old immigrant high-school student and a 90-year-old, American-born veteran of WWII read the same book? Do they notice the same things? Do they understand the story or relate to the characters in the same way? Of course not, because every reader brings his or her own history to the reading. Coming together to share our impressions of a book (or some other work of art) helps us to understand each other. Such exploration serves not only to highlight our differences, however, but to illuminate our common humanity and shared bonds. This, ultimately, is the appeal of “community,” and, by extension, of our community read.
Over the last 2 years, a diverse and physically scattered community of dedicated readers has flocked to our choice for the 2013 One Book, One Watertown community read. While you may not have heard of it yet, WOOL was the highest customer-reviewed work of fiction on Amazon last year (with over 4,800 reviews and an average of 4.7 stars). The movie rights were optioned by Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien) and Steve Zaillian (Schindler's List), and it's currently being translated into 27 foreign languages.
Why have you probably never heard of it? Because it was a self-published work by an unknown author. That means it was not in most libraries or bookstores, there were no print ads for it in magazines, and review attention was sparse at best. Yet this novel managed to gather an army of loyal readers who passed it on, one copy at a time, to family, friends, and co-workers, slowly building it into a New York Times bestseller. That all of this took place outside the confines of the traditional publishing model is testament to the direct relationship that now exists between the writer and the reader.
Here's how it happened:
In the summer of 2011, Hugh Howey was working in a bookstore and writing when he could find the time. He self-published a 58 page novella entitled WOOL through Amazon, and continued to write other projects. He soon began receiving a flood of emails from people desperate for him to continue the story – to tell them more about the world and the characters he'd created. He dropped his other projects and went back to work on WOOL, adding 4 more installments (those 5 works comprise the book we will read). Mr. Howey is now one of the most successful of the growing cadre of self-published authors, and a vocal proponent of self-publishing.
The continued growth of self-publishing – particularly of ebooks – has forever changed the literary landscape. As librarians, we watch with bated breath as this revolution unfolds, and we welcome the opportunity to explore with our community what this new paradigm may bring to readers.
In the final analysis, though, the story itself is more important than any changes it's wrought in the publishing world. The author spins a compelling yarn that defies easy classification. We believe this book transcends genres, and asks powerful and vital questions about who we are both as human beings, and as members of a community.
It challenges us to consider the value of an individual life: who are we in relation to the institutions we create? What happens when we believe those institutions will protect us – only to discover that they can't? Or won't. This is the world of WOOL.
It's one heck of a thrilling page-turner, too!
The books will be available for check-out starting in the coming weeks. In September, the author will join us – just one part of our exciting roster of Fall events.
WOOL: Read it this summer. Celebrate it this Fall. We look forward to sharing it with you.
If you'd like to read more about Hugh Howey and WOOL, check out some of these links (but beware of possible spoilers!):
Wall Street Journal: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732467860457834075208830566...
The Washington Post:
Written by Reference Librarian Jill.