One Book, One City

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One Book, One City is an annual city-wide book discussion program organized by the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library and the City of Indianapolis. The goal is to promote a city zeitgeist of reading and discussion by picking an annual book selection from a long list of titles suggested by Indianapolis residents.
In 2004, the program’s third year, residents were asked to suggest books following a theme: representing either “America’s Finest Hour” or “America’s Darkest Hour.”

The titles are then narrowed down by a panel of people representing the city and the Public Library, to 25 top choices and finally to one selection.
The Bondwoman’s Narrative won out over 154 other books nominated for the One Book program by members of the public. Last year’s choice was Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing and in the program’s first year, Indianapolis read The Friendly Persuasion by Jessamyn West.
My book group participated the first year by reading the Jessamyn West book, which was set in Indiana during the civil war. In a series of short stories, it followed the fortunes of a pacifist Quaker family and their struggle to come to terms with the civil war’s effect on their lives.
The thing that bugs me about this program; Indy residents do a good job of suggesting interesting books, but the final choices are very… safe. The selections all seem to be uplifting, educational, or otherwise inspirational. Which is fine I guess. But I just wish for a pick that’s a bit more challenging to the Indiana status quo.
Here are a couple of titles (all were suggested by residents this year) that I think would have been more interesting titles for the One Book, Once City program.
Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. It’s the story of how Chicago put together (against tremendous odds) the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. It’s a great example of what a city can accomplish by working together with passion and imagination, and that’s the kind of community spirit that Indianapolis needs as inspiration.
Iron-Jawed Angels or the book Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Until I stumbled across anti-women’s sufferage memorabilia on eBay, I had no idea how virulent or misogynist the movement against women’s right to vote was, or how hard women had to struggle to achieve something that seems to us today to be mere common sense. This is an area of our common history that gets overlooked or even deliberately ignored in today’s school system, and it needs to have more focus.
Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (The Novel As American Social History) — by Thomas Dix. A horribly racist novel that influence D. W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation,” it was also directly responsible for promoting the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana to the point that the entire state was run by Klan members for a period in the 1920s. We study the horror of slavery in history classes, but we often overlook the racist history of America that occurred after the civil war.
Slaughterhouse-five, or, The children’s crusade : a duty-dance with death. By Hoosier author Kurt Vonnegut, this eloquent novel highlights the horror of senseless war in the name of authority. It couldn’t be more appropriate or more timely, given the senseless war in Iraq.
Patriot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories, and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love by Caroline Kennedy. An extraordinary collection of our national history and a reminder of our nations origins and moral principles, this book hasn’t received the celebration it deserves.
Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. An eye-opening book that highlights the dark side of American history — a side that is often ignored in our classroom textbooks, because textbook selection is such a political enterprise.

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