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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 16:39 GMT
The city that reads together...
One city, one book
The cities of Chicago, Los Angeles and New York are calling on their citizens to all read the same books at the same time. BBC News Online puts the idea to London's mayor.

It may seem like almost everyone on the train is clutching a copy of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, ploughing through a Harry Potter or bending the spine of The Lord of the Rings, but Britons are rank amateurs in the simultaneous reading stakes.

President Bush visits a school
Would you let a politician choose your books?
Mayors across the US are pleading their citizens to synchronise their reading habits - and voters seem to be listening.

In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley asked the city's three million inhabitants to tackle Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.

Click here to nominate a book everyone should read together

Corporate sponsors offered a $5 rebate on the book's cover price, Starbucks gave free coffee to discussion groups and 40,000 "Are you reading Mockingbird?" badges were dished out.

Over the course of autumn 2001, the book - about a white lawyer defending a black man accused of rape - was checked from Chicago's libraries 6,500 times and raced from 250th on the Amazon national sales chart to 51st.

Teenagers reading
"Who's this Sade bloke, anyway?"
While the city will repeat the exercise this spring with Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel's Holocaust novel Night, the One Book, One Chicago idea seems to be catching on in other American cities.

And now it could even cross the Pond. London mayor Ken Livingstone is said to investigating the idea after BBC News Online suggested it to his office.

But what would the British consider a good community read? In Los Angeles, the homeland of TV and movies, Ray Bradbury's staunchly pro-book novel Fahrenheit 451 is the assigned reading matter.

A graping read?

The whole state of California is also being asked to devote part of the summer to finishing John Steinbeck's 600-page Depression era epic The Grapes of Wrath.

Even New York is mulling over the idea, and possible titles. Native Speaker, a novel set among the city's Korean inhabitants, is the hot favourite.

PM Tony Blair with a hymn book
"Around the World in 80 Days. Chapter one..."
However, many in this proudly bookish city abhor the thought of a common read - not least the New York Times, which says "good" books are being forced on citizens in the way a matron might administer cod-liver oil.

Getting people reading (and reading the "right" thing) is only part of the one book movement. Giving city dwellers an obvious thing in common to discuss on the bus or supermarket queue is also a strong motivation for the project.

The fear that urban Americans - and by logical extension any urbanite - are living separate and lonely lives was articulated in Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone.

Suggestions, please

The 2000 book - which said civic pride and unity had been undermined by rampant individualism and mind-boggling choice in all things - was the common read for politicians.

Mayor Ken Livingstone on the Tube
"I should have chosen Hollywood Wives."
The UK's Prime Minister Tony Blair, President Bill Clinton and even (unbookish) President George Bush dipped into the worthy tome.

If the idea of a community read is to catch on in the UK, what would be a suitable book?

London's mayor Ken Livingstone might choose to champion The Dispossessed, a sci-fi novel by Ursula Le Guin about an idealistic scientist sucking into interstellar politics, which is said to be one of the mayor's favourites.

Or perhaps he'd prefer to plug his own 1987 book, If Voting Changed Anything They'd Abolish It.

Some of your suggestions so far. On Thursday, take part in our vote to find the most popular suggestion.

Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck - accessible to teenagers, could be done in schools too, interesting message.
Judith Marlow, UK

I recommend One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Solzhenitsyn. Courage in the face of such crushing oppression is inspiring.
David Gatenby, Germany

George Eliot's Middlemarch. This masterpiece is not only the great moral English novel of the 19th Century, it's easily one of the greatest novels ever written, in any language. George Orwell's 1984. The reasons should be obvious.
Jeffrey Georlett

That glorious, extraordinary, staggering, funny, moving, unique Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. Should keep the citizens reading for a good long time!
Patrick, Singapore

Anything as long as it's not Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter! If I see that little four eyed tyke while travelling to work, I'll probably get tube rage!
Bob, UK

Fever Pitch (Nick Hornby)- It strikes a chord with all football fans and explains to those who don't like football why we love it so much, Its also British (and it helps if you're an Arsenal fan).
Andrew D, UK

James Joyce's Ulysses. Perhaps somebody out of five million can work out what it's about.
Glenn N, UK

Stupid White Men and other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation by Michael Moore for examples of other foolish ideas from politicians
Ian Turner, UK

W G Sebald - The Rings of Saturn - see England from a different (and European) perspective.
Robert, UK

No Logo by Naomi Klein would be a good one for the Starbucks discussion groups.
Tim, England

Anything with large, easy-to-read text, so that when I forget my own copy, I shouldn't have to squint to hard to read my neighbour's.
Kathy, UK

Given the day, I think none other than Spike Milligan's wonderful Puckoon should be read.
PM, Northern Ireland

The Rainbow by D.H.Lawrence. It is not a dirty book nor a rude one.
Samantha, England

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See also:

16 May 00 | UK
Libraries: Read not dead
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