One Book One New Paltz: 2011

The New Paltz community has come together again for a shared reading experience with the seventh annual One Book One New Paltz (OBONP) program.

One Book One New Paltz was founded in 2004 by Director of the Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach Gerald Benjamin, who served as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the time. Inspired by similar endeavors in other areas, Benjamin gathered 20 volunteers from the community and the college to make the idea a reality.

The program has many goals it hopes to achieve each year. According to committee member Maryann Fallek, a main aspect of the program is the “promotion of reading by highlighting its power and pleasure,” as the National Education Association has found that reading in America is quickly declining, especially among younger people.  Other goals include advocating community service, fostering the expression of diverse ideas to help participants learn about themselves and others, celebrating and enriching the community and enhancing the quality of life in New Paltz.

The process of the determining which book will be used begins with suggestions from the evaluation of the previous year’s program.

“The choice is a process of winnowing, using the One Book criteria to guide our choice. Our criteria: the book must appeal to a wide and diverse audience. It must be accessible (good size, good price),” Assistant Vice President of Institutional Research and Planning Jacqueline Andrews said. “It must be well-written. It must lend itself to interesting shared discussion. It must support our goals of building community and promoting reading.”

The books chosen this year were “War Dances” and “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” both by Sherman Alexie. Andrews, who is also a committee member, said the selection of “ War Dances” was a collaboration with the common summer read, as it was required reading for all first-year students in Composition I. She also said that “The Absolutely True Diary…”caters to a younger audience in an attempt to “attract a wider range of participant ages.”

A range of events and activities will accompany the reading of the chosen book(s) over the course of the month, mainly during the week of Oct. 23, with the final event taking place on Oct. 30, Andrews said. These include book discussions, film screenings, art exhibits, musical performances, lectures and panel presentations at various venues in the community, all pertaining to the chosen literary work. Some of the upcoming events are a bagel brunch and book discussion at the Jewish Community Center, an interactive book discussion at the Town of New Paltz Community Center and a showing of the film “Smoke Signals” in the Lecture Center, among others.

“The cornerstone of our successful program has been our community discussions, where readers gather to talk about the book in groups small enough so that all can participate,” Fallek said.  “A variety of on-and off-campus venues and discussion-
leader personalities attract diverse participation.

Fallek said that there has been a wide array of discussions by leaders in the past, such as academics, artists, religious leaders, local writers, filmmakers, editors and elected officials.

Andrews feels that One Book One New Paltz is “wonderful” and is truly beneficial to all in the New Paltz community.

“The program has been successful, providing free-of-charge events to more than 300 community and college members for the past six years,” Andrews said. “It is an act of community love, and a love of reading.”