Columbia library's One Read program triggers community discussion

Wednesday, September 16, 2009 | 5:14 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Growing up, Julia Helvey passed the Missouri State Sanitarium at Mount Vernon every time she went into town.

More than a half-century later, this childhood memory led Helvey, 66, to join other readers in the Daniel Boone Regional Library’s yearly One Read program.

If you go

What: Book signing with Andrea Barrett author of “The Air We Breathe”
When: 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday
Where: Columbia Public Library

What: Andrea Barrett will discuss her book “The Air We Breathe”
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: Launer Auditorium, Columbia College

For a list of upcoming activities visit the One Read Calendar of Events.

“What I remember as a child was that there was no fence, but there were gates,” Helvey said. “As a child we had skin tests every year in our schools.”

This year’s selection, Andrea Barrett’s “The Air We Breathe,” focuses on tuberculosis patients during World War I. Helvey, along with 14 other readers, attended a book discussion at the Columbia Public Library on Tuesday.

Helvey typically reads nonfiction, but she began participating in the One Read program because of her childhood ties to the sanitarium.

“I tried it because of my interest in tuberculosis,” she said. “It’s been a real push to get it read."

Mention of the Missouri State Sanitarium drew her to Tuesday’s discussion with special guests Lynelle Phillips and Lise Saffran of MU’s Masters of Public Health program. This lecture was listed as one of many One Read events on the library’s September calendar.

In her lecture, Phillips compared modern-day tuberculosis treatment to the methods used in the era of Barrett’s novel. The talk revolved around the sanitarium Helvey passed daily in her youth and how the institution evolved over time. During World War I, patients were confined to the sanitarium with little hope of a cure. Today, tuberculosis patients can enjoy the comforts of home while they wait for antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

Afterward, Saffran led a discussion on Barrett’s use of point of view in the novel and how it affected the theme of community within tuberculosis institutions.

Several participants voiced difficulty getting into the story, but One Read coordinators Doyne McKenzie and Sally Abromovich believe this year’s program has been a success.

“A lot of the discussions run over because people just keep talking,” McKenzie said. “Four hundred copies of the book have been in constant circulation since mid-May.”

The 400 copies have traveled through the hands of library patrons, but this does not include the number of participants who purchased their own copies.

Although attendees at Tuesday's meeting discussed tuberculosis, readers have debated multiple themes within "The Air We Breathe" throughout the month of September.

“There are a lot of different topics: immigrants, vigilantism, the impending war,” McKenzie said. “The patrons, they stay around and talk about it afterward. This was really one of the first times we talked about TB.”

With roughly two more weeks of events left, the coordinators said it’s not too late to become involved with One Read — even if you haven’t started reading the book.

“A lot of people ... decide based on the discussion whether or not they want to read it,” Abromovich said.

Barrett will sign copies of her book from 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday at the Columbia Public Library. Later that evening, she will lecture at 7 p.m. at Columbia College’s Launer Auditorium.

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