Inspire others to read by writing

Published: Sunday, January 4, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 3, 2004 at 10:28 p.m.

Joining a book club is serious business. You have to have the right stuff. I met a man once who said he'd tried to get into three different book clubs and had gotten blackballed from each.

He admitted that two he'd tried to join were for women only; and the other one - well, he wouldn't say. He only hung his head and told me he was still trying to get in.

Seriously, though, book clubs are springing up everywhere. And ours here, while newspaper-based, has tough standards. You don't have to show up; you don't have to comb your hair or even take a bath. That's why I like it.

Yet, that's not why I started it.

Here's the truth.

Soon after Sept. 11, 2001, I thought one of the best things we could do for ourselves and for our new world was to revisit the wisdom of classics, travel through the fictional dreams of new and current writers, and create a community of readers that would transcend age, background and place of residence.

Simply, imagination is the one trait we can claim to have beyond all other critters; and therefore it must be put into our brains for some good reason. Personally, I think imagination has to do with survival, not just from when we were cave men imagining the coming of a lion to eat us before the lion came around the corner, but imagining who we might become, in a better sense, a more generous sense, a more tolerant sense, a more peaceful sense. Imagination is our most direct connection to the future.

Through literary art, we exercise the imagination muscle. By responding to literary art, we exercise our reasoning. Tying imagination with reasoning by writing about what we read is bound to help move our ole specie along. So this is an open invitation.

I hope this year you'll add your voice to ours. You can mentor those younger by letting your name show up in bold type here as someone who reads and is affected by that reading.

On the other hand, if you don't want to have your name appear here, tell us that. We want your thoughts. Your voice counts, and we want to blend it with others.

And as for the writing stuff, don't sweat it. Like Mark Twain, I long ago sent in a whole page of commas and told my editor, "Here, put 'em anywhere you want."

We'd also love to feature your business or club as readers. So choose a book from our list, form your employees, or club members, into a group and let us share your thoughts with our community.

We have a list of great books coming up. I've taken folks' suggestions, melded them with my premise that we will focus on literary novels as a means of emotional growth, and here's what we have on tap:

January and February - "Forever Island" and "Allapattah" by Patrick Smith.

Readers from Osceola Middle School in Ocala will be among those featured. And from the State Sunshine Reading List, we'll discuss "No More Dead Dogs" by Gordon Korman. Next week you'll meet three of my Gainesville novel buddies: Jeff Babik, Stephen Burnett, and Horace Freeman.

March - The city of Gainesville is having a One City, One Story Read coordinated by The Hippodrome State Theatre with "The War of the Worlds" by H.G. Wells.

April and May - "A Long and Happy Life" by Reynolds Price. This is the first novel by one of our most treasured American writers. We'll also discuss the young adult novel from the Sunshine List, "Stick and Whittle," by Sid Hite, and we'll add a non-fiction title for all ages, "American Muslims" by Asma Gull Hasan.

June and July - An all-British read in an effort to stay cool and keep stiff upper lips in the Florida heat, "A Brief History of Time," by Stephen Hawking, and the first Potter book, "Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling. I know this is a break from my original rule of saying we'd do only novels and only American writers. But that's why I'm the leader - I get to break my own rules.

August and September - "Killer Angels," the famous Civil War novel by Michael Shaara, along with the classic, "The Red Badge of Courage," by Stephen Crane as well as the young adult novel, "Silver Dollar Girl," by Katherine Ayres.

October and November - "Belle Canto" by Ann Patchett. (This novel was recommended by Betty Ann Rainbow at Goerings Book Store, who says it's splendid. If it turns out not to be, we can go into Goerings and complain.) We'll also do a young adult book from the new State Sunshine Reading List.

As for ways to respond to our reading, these are some suggestions I recently sent to the kids at Osceola Middle School:

  • When you close the book, what's the one thing you remember? What did you learn in reading this book that you did not know before you began? What was the part that made you most sad? Which is the part that made you feel happy or to laugh out loud? And which made you want to throw the book against the wall and say, "Oh, give me a break!" And why?

  • Last, but not least, if you could talk to the author, what would you say?

    So how about it?

    Is this your year to join us?

    Happy Reading.

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