By Bailey Hosfelt
In the wake of this election season, millions of Americans are turning to literature for a breath of fresh air amid tumultuous politics, putting their noses in a book as a temporary break from the news.
New York City is following suit and showing its democratic devotion to getting the entire city on the same page. As a result, New York has launched a new initiative, a city-wide book club of sorts, appropriately called “One Book, One New York.”
Drawing inspiration from previous one book, one city reading campaigns in Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle, the New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) formed an advisory panel comprised of public library heads, publishers and academics to choose potential books for the program.
By creating a panel to narrow the contenders, the MOME helped prevent detrimental splits from arising as they did when the city attempted a similar campaign in 2002, devoid of a concrete organizing committee.
But this year is not like 2002, seeing as the panel successfully boiled the list down to five finalists: “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Diaz, “The Sellout” by Paul Beatty, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith, “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
Each of the five finalists displays the author or main character grappling with what is difficult in the world around them. They showcase themes that are especially relevant in today’s society ranging from immigration to race relations in America.
To add some face recognition, video testimonials made in partnership with BuzzFeed feature celebrities from William H. Macy (“Shameless”) and Danielle Brooks (“Orange is the New Black”), to Bebe Neuwirth (“Madame Secretary”), Giancarlo Esposito (“The Get Down”) and comedian Larry Wilmore, promoting their respective books of choice and the campaign altogether.
Between now and Feb. 28, the MOME encourages residents from all five boroughs to choose their pick. New Yorkers can cast their votes online or underground at one of many digital kiosks on subway platforms throughout the city.
Once the winner is announced on March 1, New Yorkers will have three months to read the book with six community-based reading events planned along the way. This is all in preparation for the culminating event in June, which will take place at the New York Public Library’s main branch and include an appearance from the winning book’s author.
Julie Menin, Commissioner of the MOME, said in a press statement at the launch of the campaign that, “‘One Book, One New York’ will help readers connect with one another while rediscovering their local libraries and the independent neighborhood bookstores.”
Considering Staten Island has just one independent bookstore and the Bronx has no bookstores to its name, this initiative comes with an important message to not only foster a sense of unity among New Yorkers, but also to reaffirm a widespread dedication to reading. After all, New York City is the place the “Big Five” publishing companies call home, the birthplace of bookstore chain Barnes & Noble and independent locales like Strand and Astoria Bookshop.
Menin hopes that the “One Book, One New York” campaign will help spark both economic and community development and inspire people to buy one, if not all five, of the books or visit their local public library branch.
According to The New York Times, the publishers of each finalist will donate a total of 4,000 copies of the books to over 200 library branches throughout the five boroughs.
Information about the city-wide initiative is everywhere from subway and bus ads to LinkNYC kiosks on the streets and Taxi TV. If the extensive advertising of “One Book, One New York” is a sign of anything, it is the amount of energy that has gone into ensuring that it is a success.
As NYPL President Tony Marx said, “The power of reading is on display everyday: the power to inform and to unite people, communities and indeed, whole cities.”