Guest Editorial

Monday, April 22, 2002

The folks at the State Library in Des Moines are aiming to do what very few have done before - get Iowans, all Iowans if they can, to read a single book and have a statewide discussion.

Think Oprah's recently disbanded book club on a grand scale.

"All Iowa Reads" has as its goal sparking statewide interest in literacy and discussion of literary works.

It's a great idea, and it's not a completely new one. Large communities across the country have done it. Seattle was the first to foster the trend. It began its series with "The Sweet Hereafter" by Russell Banks. Johnson County in southeast Iowa has also had a thriving community book program, with more than 450 copies of the chosen book being purchased in area bookstores.

The rub is finding the right book.

As E.M. Forster noted in his quote, the perfect book for me might be a very different selection than the perfect book for you. Those charged with finding the inaugural book have their hands full. The very thing that makes Iowa a great place to live makes it a tough place to get everyone to agree. We're independent. We're stubborn. We know what we like. Many experts are cringing at the idea of finding a single book to capture the attention of the state.

Should it be a book by an Iowa author? A book with a Midwestern connection? An old classic? A new phenomenon? Fiction? Non-fiction? Long? Or Short? Poetry? Or prose? There have been some excellent books by authors with an Iowa connection and a Midwestern setting.

"A Thousand Acres," Jane Smiley's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel comes to mind. With Shakespeare's story of King Lear as its inspiration, the story captivated millions of readers.

Which is one drawback to the book. A lot of us have already read it. I checked with a local librarian to see if she had any suggestions for the "All Iowa Reads" selection. Like the cobbler of old, she said she's often too busy to read as many new books as she'd like. After some thought, she offered this suggestion, "A book on Iowa's pioneer women would be good," she said.

"Frontierswoman" by Glenda Riley, an Iowa writer, is one good option, she said.

A book of this type would lead to some great discussions about our ancestors, as nearly everyone seems to have an interesting tale to tell.

It will be interesting to see what direction the organizers of "All Iowa Reads" go in making their selection. I'll be ready to crack open the book, whatever the selection.