ReadMOre program brings author Jane Smiley to Columbia

Tuesday, April 7, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 2:36 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 7, 2009

COLUMBIA — The cover of a book usually serves as an emblem of a novel for its readers. Jane Smiley's "A Thousand Acres" may throw some readers off because it has at least seven different covers, all portraying different things. But Kathleen Butterly Nigro, one of the founders of the ReadMOre program and a professor at University of Missouri-St. Louis, pointed out that the different book covers portray different and equally important aspects of the book. One cover shows a woman surrounded by grain, another has a quilt on the cover and another a hay field with one bale.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley will appear at the Columbia Public Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday to talk about her book, "A Thousand Acres."

If you go

What: Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley talking about her book, "A Thousand Acres."

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 8

Where: Columbia Public Library, 100 W. Broadway

The ReadMOre Missouri program has selected "A Thousand Acres" as its book choice for 2009. The community reading and discussion program is organized annually by Missouri librarians and readers and was founded in 2002. The criteria for the book they pick each year is that the book be easily available, accessible to people of various reading levels and affordable (preferably in paperback). One factor in the ReadMOre committee's decision was that Smiley grew up in Webster Groves and has ties to the state.

"People get very drawn to the story," Nigro said. "Secrets are unfolded as the story goes on, and that's very appealing to people."

In Smiley's novel, an Iowa farmer decides to divide his farm between his three daughters. When the youngest objects, she is removed from his will. Hidden truths and suppressed emotions come to light as a result.

"People who said they were raised on farms say she absolutely captures that world," Nigro said. "This is a very real world, and it defies stereotypes."

Nigro said that Missouri is one of a few states to have a statewide reading program.

"That is our contribution to bringing people together and promoting discussion. We do it through books," Nigro said.

The program receives financial support from the Missouri Humanities Council.

"Our mission is connected to public appreciation of history and literature. So it's a natural fit for us," said Michael Bouman, executive director of the Missouri Humanities Council.

The Missouri Humanities Council provides $5,000 to $7,000 of funding each year for the ReadMOre Program. The money helps bring the selected author to Missouri and pays for production of the discussion guides, which Nigro wrote.

The discussion with Smiley on Wednesday is currently full with about 70 registered people. People are encouraged to sign up for the waiting list.

Professor George Justice, associate professor of English and associate dean of the Graduate School at MU, will lead a discussion of Smiley's "A Thousand Acres" at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Friends Room at the Columbia Public Library.

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