Reading brings this community closer together


By: Packet Editorial
   Reading is generally not thought of as an especially social activity.
   One doesn’t normally invite friends over for a quiet evening of reading. People don’t usually gather in a public place to sit around and read — unless, of course, they’re in a library or a bookstore, in which case they tend either to browse through the stacks or sit off in a corner by themselves.
   Reading is, in fact, a pastime that is gloriously solitary. There’s nothing quite like curling up with a good book and losing yourself in the pages — letting your mental image of the characters and descriptions take total control of your consciousness and blocking out every possible distraction.
   For the next month, however, Princeton is going to turn reading into a decidedly communal activity. The organizers of "Princeton Reads" are encouraging everyone in town to read the same book — "The Color of Water: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother," by James McBride — and join in a series of events sponsored by community groups to focus on the themes and issues raised in the book.
   This is the second effort by "Princeton Reads" to organize a series of community events around a single book. In 2003, Chang-rae Lee’s "Native Speaker" was the "Princeton Reads" selection, and the program was an unabashed success. Not only was the book widely read by townspeople, but Mr. Lee, a Princeton University professor, drew large and enthusiastic audiences when he made appearances at the Princeton Public Library and Princeton High School. In addition, "Princeton Reads" organizers estimate that some 20 discussion groups were formed around town in response to the program.
   The "Princeton Reads" program went on hiatus after that first year while the library moved to its temporary location in the Princeton Shopping Center. Now that the library is comfortably resettled in its new, downtown quarters, the Friends of the Princeton Public Library, together with Princeton High School and the Nassau Inn, are again sponsoring the program, and they hope the 2006 version draws an even greater response than its predecessor.
   Specifically, what the organizers would like to see — in addition to a big turnout at Mr. McBride’s scheduled appearance at the public library at 7:30 p.m. on March 16 and an enthusiastic reception at the high school earlier that day — is a snowball effect. Building on the momentum of these personal appearances, other community groups, such as church congregations and book clubs, might be inspired to convene their own discussion groups centered around "The Color of Water." The library will provide a discussion leader, copies of the book and discussion guides for any interested group or organization that wants to participate in this fashion.
   "The Color of Water," a best-seller when it was published a decade ago (a 10th-anniversary edition was released earlier this month), is Mr. McBride’s memoir of growing up in an interracial family. The central character is Mr. McBride’s white mother, Ruth McBride Jordan, a rabbi’s daughter who helped his black father establish an all-black Baptist church in her home — while raising 12 children.
   The library has purchased hundreds of copies of "The Color of Water," and area bookstores have stocked up, as well. They hope, as we do, that area residents will enthusiastically embrace the "Princeton Reads" program, and discover in the process that while curling up with a good book in comfortable solitude may have its rewards, sharing it with the whole community can bring even greater satisfaction and joy.