Let’s Read and Talk!

By Belinda Gergel, City Council District 3

As Jasper readers well know, Columbia residents love to read! Indeed, this past year we joined cities like Seattle, Cambridge, Portland, and Berkeley on Amazon’s “20 Most Well Read Cities in America” coming in at #16 on the list!

In an effort to capitalize on all that this love of reading might hold for our community, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and City Council, Richland County Council, Richland County Public Library, and the Columbia Council of Neighborhoods have launched One Book, One Columbia. Patterned after programs in communities across the country, One Book is a community-wide reading initiative that invites all area residents to read the same book at the same time.

The goal of the One Book program is simple – we want to provide opportunities for our residents throughout the community to join together in discussion around the themes of a great, compelling book. The 2011 inaugural program attracted several thousand readers from all walks of life who read the selection and discussed it in venues ranging from book club living rooms to business break-rooms, from the Rosewood Deli to college classrooms, and from Starbucks to prison community rooms.

We think the One Book program is exactly the kind of program that smart and savvy Jasper readers will embrace! You understand the role of reading in informing and transforming the human experience. Moreover you appreciate the close link between a flourishing arts and literary infrastructure and a creative, vibrant community. Celebrating the power of books to bring our diverse community together to dialogue about ideas speaks volumes about what we value as a city and region.

The 2012 One Book, One Columbia program will officially kick off on January 17 and run through the month of February. At this time we will invite all area residents to join us in reading New York Times best-selling author Ron Rash’s Saints At the River, a page turner set in South Carolina. It is an edgy work of fiction that addresses how one community responds to a tragedy when there appears to be no good options for action. Awarded the Southeastern Bookseller’s Association’s “Best Book of the Year,” it explores themes that will resonate with Columbia book lovers – themes of family and place, the protection of scenic rivers and the natural environment, and the role of the media in shaping and covering news issues.

We ask that Jasper readers join us in One Book and promote the reading experience with your circles of friends and associates. If you are a member of an organized book club, please consider having your book club read Saints At The River as its February book selection? Consider yourself a leader in this initiative and help spread the word!

Of course talking with fellow Columbia residents about their take on Saints at the River truly is the highlight of the One Book program. Author Ron Rash will join us on February 1st at the Richland County Public Library on Assembly Street at 6:30 PM for a special lecture and book signing, and Mayor Steve Benjamin will host a panel discussion on February 16 at 6:00 PM at the library. The RCPL will sponsor several exciting programs for One Book readers, and I urge you to check out its One Book page at www.MyRCPL.org/onebook. The One Book, One Columbia Facebook page provides information about events and a place to share insights on the read. Please visit and “like” the page for routine updates. Participating in these programs and events and using social media encourages the kind of dialogue that enhances this special reading experience.

I look forward to joining you in the read and hearing about your thoughts and observations about Saints At the River and the One Book experience. Until then, shoot me a message at bfgergel@columbiasc.net. Let’s read – and talk!

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