So when Hartford Public Library interim director Matt Poland asked me to be on the selection committee to pick the one book Greater Hartford will read this summer, I was more than a little excited.
And when I got the call that the four books in contention had been dropped off, I ran downstairs like some greedy little kid on Christmas ready to horde her gifts.
But this isn't about me; it's about building community, and as seriously as I'm taking the assignment to read all the books and help choose the right one, I figured why not include all of you.
So, this column has a bit of a catch.
When you get done reading, I'm going to ask you to do some more reading and help me out.
If you're not familiar with the literary program, it's about engaging the community in the shared experience of reading one book by a living author. Consider it a citywide book club.
Since it started in 2002, a long list of esteemed authors have visited Hartford: Edwidge Danticat, Azar Nafisi, James McBride and Manil Suri to name a few.
Our choices this year are:
•"Push" by Sapphire. I'll warn you up front. This book is a blunt, raw account of an illiterate, sexually abused young girl growing up in New York. I'm afraid the language and content might scare people off, but the subject matter is incredibly relevant.
•"The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz. In the spirit of full disclosure, I've been a fan of Diaz for years. He does not disappoint with this Pulitzer-winning book. The story follows Oscar, a 300-plus pound Dominican nerd (must be why I liked him) who is obsessed with science fiction and love. Diaz had me at fuku — and if you read the book you'll know what I mean.
•"Graceland" by Chris Abani. I'm about halfway through this story about an Elvis impersonator in Nigeria. Yeah, you read that right, and no, you can't go wrong with that premise.
•And finally, "Lucky Child" by Loung Ung, a memoir of the Cambodian refugee's assimilation into a Vermont community while trying to overcome painful memories of her homeland.
One Book culminates in the winning author's visit to Hartford in late October. But through the summer, there'll be discussions throughout the city where we can all share our reactions to the text, and discuss the issues the books explore — immigration, literacy, education, to name a few.
With the help of the Web staff here, I've arranged for a poll so you can vote for your top pick. It'll be on my blog and in my column online (courant.com/ubinas). Next year, Janet Benedict (also an interim director) tells me, the selection process will be more interactive.
But, for now, I'm asking you to get involved. So, e-mail, tweet or call with your thoughts. Have you read any of the books? Do you have a favorite? Does one title just appeal to you more than the others?
No guarantee that the book you choose is going to be the selection committee's top pick Friday, but I figure the more feedback we have, the better.
So, come on. Vote, and tell me which book you think should be the one.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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