In 1998 our nation's most famous librarian, Nancy Pearl, posed a question to her fellow Seattleites: What if everyone in the city read the same book? The answer, she learned, was that a wildly diverse group of people would suddenly have at least one thing in common. That summer thousands came together to read The Sweet Hereafter by Russel Banks. Seattle loved it, and the "One Book, One City" phenomenon was born. Cities large and small started their own "Big Reads," and in 2003 Pearl was credited with starting the "most significant public humanities program in the past 10 years."
I wouldn't dream of second-guessing anyone with her own action figure, but I think the "One Book, One City" programs make a very industrial age assumption: Namely, that most of our relationships are determined by geography. On the Internet--where affinity is more powerful than geography--that's just not the case anymore. And so I'd like to ask a slightly more ambitious question: What if everyone in the world read the same book? We have the ideal technology at our fingertips--Twitter. All we need now is the book.
Toward that end I recently launched the world's first global book club: One Book, One Twitter. And because it seems to me this should be democratic in every way, I asked, well, everyone to help decide which book we should all read. As you read this people around the world are voting on which book they'd like to read this summer, and gathering at the #1b1t hash on Twitter to discuss their choice. So far American Gods by Neil Gaiman has been leading the field by a healthy margin, but strong lobbies have formed behind Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 100 Years of Solitude and Ray Bradbury's Fahreinheit 451. By the time voting ends next week anything could happen.
We've already drawn in thousands of people from Pasadena, Portugal, and Peoria. (Really. I'm not just being alliterative.) But of course, for this to truly reach a global audience, we need your help. If you like what we're doing, vote now, and spread the word. Tweet it, blog it, tell your friends. And go global. Voting ends at Midnight next Wednesday (April 28). After that, we'll all start reading, and tweeting, and reading, and tweeting.
What's the point of all this? First and foremost, to have a boatload of fun. The very people who most want to encourage reading often seem to treat books like brussel sprouts for the brain. Screw that. I'm taking the Cookies-and-Milk approach. Join One Book, One Twitter because a good story is unsurpassed fun, like rollercoasters and boogie boards and a ridiculously late night out with your friends.
As it happens, there's another layer to all this if anyone decides they need one: I believe a global, Twitter-based club has the capacity to build something academics call "social capital." I'm in the unusual position of playing college student again, and have been taking a graduate course in social capital with Robert Putnam, author of the book, Bowling Alone. Social capital is the WD-40 in our lives, the connections that result in new jobs, new spouses, and new friends. It's why George Bailey is the richest man in town. And what social scientists call bridging social capital allows connections to form between people who have nothing in common. Except, perhaps, that they happen to be reading the same book.
We can't make Sunnis love Shia, or or turn the Blue and Red states into the United States, or make everyone accept a two-state solution. We can all read one book, though, and maybe all get to know each other a bit better.
Vote for your choice for the One Book, One Twitter here!