Voting for One Read program opens

Monday, March 30, 2009 | 7:53 p.m. CDT; updated 10:45 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 1, 2009

COLUMBIA — Travel to Tamarack Lake sanitarium in 1916 and watch the lives of tubercular patients unfold, or follow the struggles of first and second generation immigrants from Cambridge to Seattle to India and Thailand? This is the choice that the Columbia public is being asked to make.

Voting for the communitywide 2009 One Read Program ends April 17. The reading panel, which includes community members, librarians and teaching staff, chose two finalists: "The Air We Breathe" by Andrea Barrett and "Unaccustomed Earth" by Jhumpa Lahiri. The winning book will be announced in May and programs for readers will start in September.

"We're always looking for books that people will pick up and read and keep reading," said Doyne McKenzie, Columbia Public Library Collection development manager and One Read co-chairwoman. She said both options for 2009 are approachable books.

Lahiri won the the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her debut short story collection, “Interpreter of Maladies.” The Bengali-American author writes about the lives of first and second-generation immigrants in a collection of eight stories in "Unaccustomed Earth."

The 1996 National Book Award Winner for “Ship Fever,” Barrett's latest novel follows characters from that short story collection. In the fall of 1916, a discussion group started by a patient at Tamarack Lake sanitarium provides a diversion but also serves as a backdrop for events that bring the war to America in "The Air We Breathe."

The voting process starts with the public and ends with the public. Columbia residents nominate books and about 100 selections make it to the panel, which meets in January and then winnows the list down to about 10. By March 20, the panel votes by e-mail and picks the top two or three books. Then voting is opened to the public to pick the final winner.

"It keeps people reading," said Kristie Elliott, owner of Nancy’s Trade-A-Book. "That's the biggest thing. And it makes it a communitywide event."

Last year, about 48 votes were cast at Elliott's store alone; she sold about 72 new copies of the 2008 winning novel, "The Whistling Season."

The two finalists for this year both deal with immigration, but this is the first time that a short story collection is one of the finalists.

"The first time I read ("Unaccustomed Earth"), I didn't realize it was not a novel," McKenzie said. "I just got swept up and carried along."

Elliott said reading books is still important today, even with Google at people's fingertips.

"You can find anything by Googling, but can you actually smell it, feel it, touch it? Books are tangible," she said.

Members of the public can vote for their favorite book online at or at any DBRL branch or Bookmobile. There are also ballot boxes at Barnes and Noble in the Columbia Mall, 2300 Bernadette Dr.; University Bookstore at MU; Cherry Street Artisan, 111 S. Ninth St.; and Nancy’s Trade-A-Book, 21 Conley Road.

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