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Required Reading

Now in its second year, Go Read hopes to lure more than 30,000 readers.

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Picking O’Brien’s award-winning collection for this year’s Go Read programs was easy. The author of last year’s selection, “A Lesson Before Dying,” Ernest J. Gaines, recommended O’Brien’s collection wholeheartedly. O’Brien’s book is a passionately real and beautifully written collection of stories about the Vietnam War. Published in 1990, the book won critical acclaim and was a finalist for both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. While the Go Read program has coordinated a number of discussion groups and book dinners to explore the book, the culminating event will be Thursday, Nov. 13, two days after Veteran’s Day, when Tim O’Brien will read at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

Go Read came about in 2002 thanks in part to Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Ray McAllister. In the spring of 2001, McAllister wrote two columns about other community reading programs around the country and the need for one here in Richmond. Book lover Sandy Stoddart, Friends of the Richmond Library board member Missie Hersey, along with Mary Flinn from the New Virginia Review Inc. and Rob Rieffel from Richmond Public Library, cared enough about reading and saw the benefits of a program like this to make the event happen. Although spontaneous, the inaugural year of Go Read was wildly successful. To date the group estimates more than 30,000 people in the region have read “A Lesson Before Dying” as a result of last year’s programs. The interest made the book the largest seller at local Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. With this year’s more coordinated and organized effort, Go Read hopes for even bigger numbers.

Aside from schools and libraries, Go Read is trying to get everyone involved in the program. Clare Schapiro, Go Read’s publicity coordinator, has used some unorthodox methods to attract readers that many may not have heard about. The staff of the Times-Dispatch had a book sale to raise money to buy 100 copies of “The Things They Carried.” These copies were distributed around the city in random places in hopes that people would pick them up, start reading and attend Go Read events. Copies were left in buses, restaurants, grocery stores and hair salons.

“We liked the kismet of somebody lucking into the book,” Schapiro says. “It’s a source of discussion and a source of surprise. We might randomly have reached people who wouldn’t have found out about it through any of the other conventional ways.” On Go Read’s Web site there is a place for people who have found copies to log in and share their impressions of the book. In addition, the Friends of the Richmond Library has donated $1,000 to buy books to be distributed within correctional institutions around the state. Go Read’s goal is to make sure everybody gets a chance to read and carry with them “The Things They Carried.” S

For a complete schedule of events and programs for Go Read go online: www.goreadrichmond.com.

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