Saratogians are one step closer now to finding out what book the community will be reading together for the Saratoga Reads program this coming winter. The organizing committee has now announced the five finalists.
Each year, Saratoga Reads solicits suggestions from the community for just one book. The idea of this program, and others similar to it, is to create a community conversation around a book of some type of significance.
Tabitha Orthwein is the chair of the board for Saratoga Reads. She says it’s not easy to narrow down community submissions to just one book. She says they’re not only looking for a book that’s a good read. “Sometimes a book that’s a great read for a book club and a singular discussion isn’t good for a community read, because it doesn’t give enough broader themes and subjects to explore.” Such themes could include something from another culture, another time period, or an event of historical significance.
For instance, the book “Water for Elephants” written by Sara Gruen. It’s a book written about the early part of the Great Depression, and Orthwein says that not only did participants read the book, they had the opportunity to learn more about what was happening in Saratoga Springs during that same time period. “It allowed us to take a deeper look at the community.”
So the advisory group that makes the final decision on what book is read each year wants “A book that can serve as a springboard for a lot of other conversation and programming.”
This year 87 books were suggested through community submissions. Each member of the advisory group – this year there were more than 30 – reads several of the books during the summer. Then at the first meeting of the full panel, they discuss what they’ve read and narrow the list down to 20 or 25 books. Some of the books that were cut were easy decisions, says Orthwein, because they probably didn’t really fit the broader scale they are looking for.
Then the really hard work begins. Advisory members have time to read a few more of the books from the remaining list. And at the second gathering they fight it out. Not literally, but this remaining list of books contain quite a few that would be well-suited for the final slot. Orthwein says it’s one of her favorite meetings to go to every year. “It’s a very passionate group of individuals who are excited and take this job seriously.”
From that list of 20-25, the advisory committee this year has narrowed the selections down to these five finalists:
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Doc by Mary Doria Russell
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup (as told to David Wilson)
Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton
One of the five has special significance to the city. Solomon Northrup was an African-American who lived and worked in Saratoga as a musician before he was abducted in 1841 and sold into slavery.
Now that the list has been narrowed to just five, the final selection is made by the community at large. Voters can read descriptions of the books at the organization’s website. And they can cast their ballots at the website, or at ballot boxes available at the Saratoga Springs Public Library and at Barnes & Noble in Wilton.
The organization is also offering what they call their “meet the candidates” night at the Saratoga library on October 16th, from 7-8:30pm. An introduction to the finalists will be provided, and there will be a scavenger hunt structured to give new insights into each of the books.
Residents have until October 31st to cast ballots. The final selection will be announced in mid-November.
Orthwein says interest in the reading program continues to grow, in large part because it’s such an inclusive event. “I think it’s something that community members have in common as something to talk about and discuss with a neighbor. It’s a connection. I also think it’s a generational community builder. Something where mom, dad, grandparents, and depending on the age of the student, I think it’s a good table conversation for families as well.”
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