Last year’s Big Read program for the Pamunkey Library system featured the novel Fahrenheit 451.
The story is a science fiction tale published in 1953, and describes a society in which books are burned, and people are indifferent.
The book’s author, Ray Bradbury, once wrote, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”
More than 50 years later, the number of people that have stopped reading them is growing.
In fact, less than half of American adults are reading literature these days, according to Reading at Risk, a 2004 report released by the National Endowment for the Arts.
And since people who read, says another study recently released by the NEA, are twice as likely than non-readers to get involved in their communities, Bradbury’s vision of an alliterate, apathetic public is becoming eerily accurate.
By participating, for the second year in a row, in the Big Read, Pamunkey Library is trying to wake people up to the easy pleasure of falling into a good book.
“I know it’s dwindling, but people do like to read,” said Patty Franz, Supervising Librarian for Pamunkey Regional Library. “And given the opportunity they will pick up a book they are familiar with.”
On Feb. 27 Pamunkey Library Director Fran Freimarck introduced this year’s Big Read selection to the Hanover County Board of Supervisors.
“I am here tonight to invite you to participate in the library’s Big Read,” said Freimarck. “To help fulfill our mission, to promote reading enjoyment, the library, in cooperation with the National Foundation for the Humanities and the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, invites all in our community to read To Kill a Mockingbird.”
Free copies of the book are available at all branches of the Pamunkey Library.
In Harper Lee’s novel "To Kill a Mockingbird," a lawyer in a small, racially divided Southern town defends a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman. The lawyer is named Atticus Finch, and he is a widower with two young children, Scout and Jem, who become fixated on learning more about their reclusive neighbor, Boo Radley
The novel was published in 1960. It then spent 88 weeks on the bestseller lists and, in 1961, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
“I think the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities chose this book because there are a number of themes in it that will appeal to a wide number of people in Virginia,” said Franz. “Scout is an amazing character, and in many ways what Harper Lee did with small town childhood is what we all wish childhood was like.”
“And Atticus, his support of the African American county residents, resonates with residents here,” she said. “The dignity of all races is clear in that book.”
The Big Read program offers communities a choice of 21 books, works that are chosen by a panel of librarians, professors, journalists and fiction writers to reflect a wide range of cultures, regions and traditions.
The Pamunkey Library is one of ten libraries that is partnering with VFH to present the Big Read. VFH received a $20,000 grant to carry out the Big Read, based on the organization’s plans, its ability to achieve collaborations from local partners such as the library system, the school system, and the local government.
Each year, about 400 cites and towns across the country receive grant funds and resources to provide their communities with a month-long agenda of programs centered on the chosen book.
Each branch of the Pamunkey Library will create its own programming. Many branches will offer screenings of the 1962 film adaptation of "To Kill a Mockingbird."
“The movie and the book are clearly related closely enough to influence one another,” said Franz. “And there are enough changes between the film and the novel to spark discussion.”
“'To Kill a Mockingbird' seems to popular choice in communities with a checkered racial history,” said David Kipen, Director of Literature for the National Endowment for the Arts.
And, it is a book about reading, notes Kipen.
In one scene in the novel, Atticus Finch discovers that a group of enraged men are planning to abduct his client from his cell. He goes to the jailhouse, ready to spend the night standing guard.
Finch’s children, and their friend Dill, hurry to the jailhouse to check on their father in the followintg passage from "To Kill a Mockingbird:"
“As we walked up the sidewalk, we saw a solitary light burning in the distance. ‘That’s funny,’ said Jem, ‘jail doesn’t have an outside light.’
‘Looks like it’s over the door,’ said Dill.
A long extension cord ran between the bars of a second-floor window and down the side of the building. In the light from its bare bulb, Atticus was sitting propped against the front door. He was sitting in one of his office chairs, and he was reading, oblivious of the nightbugs dancing over his head.”
“To stave off the lynch mob, he isn’t just standing up there,” said Kipen. “He’s basically standing them off, without a gun. He is modeling civilized behavior, reading under a lamp, sitting on a chair.”
And this is the point The Big Read Program implicitly makes, he says.
“People who read literature, that’s correlated to other socially beneficial actions, such as voting, staying out of jail, and holding a job,” he said. ““Reading is a bulwark against stupidity.”
About the Big Read:
To learn more about The Big Read at Pamunkey Regional Library, visit or call 365-6211 or www.pamunkeylibrary.org/bigread.htm
To learn more about The Big Read across the country, visit www.neabigread.org
The Big Read Calendar of Events
Mar. 11, 6 p.m., Mechanicsville Branch Library, movie and discussion with dessert.
Mar. 11, 7p.m., Ashland Branch Library, book discussion, with dessert, with Ashland’s Mayor.
Mar. 13, 2 p.m., Goochland Branch Library, movie and discussion.
Mar. 14, 6 p.m., Ashland Branch Library, movie night for teens and others, with pizza.
Mar. 17, 6:30 p.m., Atlee Branch Library, movie and discussion with dessert.
Mar. 20, 12:30 p.m., Hanover Branch Library, book discussion with dessert.
Apr. 8, 7 p.m., Montpelier Branch Library, panel discussion of the book.
Apr. 15, 7 p.m., Atlee Branch Library, presentation by Charles Shields, author of Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee.