Community of readers grows with ‘Tale’ project

By Ben Beagle
March 10, 2007

“One book. One community.” Kind of dull.
“Three counties. One story.” A bit of a lightweight.
“Books in the sticks.” We’re pretty sure that one was a joke.
At least a dozen names were considered in February 2002 before a group of librarians from Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties decided to call their community reading project “A Tale for Three Counties.”
“We wanted to get two ideas across. That it was about reading and books, and also that it was about our area,” said Leslie DeLooze, the reference librarian from Richmond Memorial Library, Batavia, who gathered her peers on Feb. 22, 2002.
“And yes, it’s a play on a ‘Tale for Two Cities,’ ” she says, acknowledging the nod to Charles Dickens’ classic about the French Revolution.
It’s been the best of times for this “Tale,” which has attracted about 4,000 readers to its programs through its first four years.
“Tale’s” fifth year, featuring author Mark Spragg and An Unfinished Life, his novel of relationships and forgiveness, wraps today with his visit to Wyoming County for a talk and book signing at Perry Elementary/Middle School, 50 Olin Ave., Perry. The program begins at 2 p.m.; admission is free.
“When I get glum about the conscription of the American imagination … to have something like this, and look at a crowd like this, bouys me,” Spragg said during his Thursday evening’s talk at Richmond Memorial Library.
“One-book” programs started to catch on in the late 1990s. Hundreds of communities – cities, counties and even entire states – followed with programs that encourage people to read and talk about the same book. In many communities a visit from the author is the project’s major attraction.
“Tale for Three Counties” is notable because it is organized by largely rural communities and crosses two library systems, Nioga for Genesee and Orleans county libraries, and the Pioneer Library System, which counts Wyoming County among its service areas.
Community reading programs foster literacy, promote meaningful discussions among all kinds of people and create a positive experience for the community, librarians and readers said.
“I had not been in a small group book discussion since coming to Oakfield 25 years ago,” said Julie B. Caton, who has read the last three featured books. “I like to have some common intellectual experiences with like-minded readers, and thought this discussion would be a great thing to do.”
Each year, “Tale” organizers – who officially became the non-profit Tale for Three Counties Council in summer 2005 – select a book by an up-and-coming author, or one not widely known in the region. They look for a story that will appeal to a range of readers, from young and old to men and women, and themes that will provide many discussion points. The goal is to encourage discussion and build a community of readers.
“I love the program and the response we’ve gotten to it,” DeLooze said. “It has worked well from the beginning when we really didn’t know what to expect or how to plan something like this.”
DeLooze, who had previously worked at libraries in Geneseo and Le Roy, knew directors at many of the libraries she contacted. But not all the directors attending the first meeting knew each other. In the past five years they’ve shared ideas beyond “Tale” and developed new friendships.
“The librarians working on this program are wonderful and have brought different things to this program every year,” said Nancy Bailey, director of Byron-Bergen Public Library, Bergen. “It is great working with all the different libraries and bringing the community together with the joy of reading.”
Beginning with author Julia Spencer-Fleming in 2005, Genesee Community College joined the project. Organizers at the college provide books to students and several professors incorporate the book into their classes. The college is also the site for book discussions that often find community members alongside students.
“Reading literature is not meant to be a solitary activity,” said Kristine Dassinger, a literature professor at GCC who led a discussion of An Unfinished Life this semester. “Great literature is meant to be discussed, so that we can learn from the works and authors and from each other.”
Librarians at “Tale” libraries have found that the selected titles continue to circulate frequently long after the author has visited. And if the author has written other books, those titles also enjoy strong circulation numbers.
Cheri Sheridan of Bergen has read each featured title, and got her husband interested in the project when they both read Spencer-Fleming’s In the Bleak Midwinter. They have since read the other four books in Spencer-Fleming’s series featuring the inquisitive Rev. Clare Fergusson.
“If you like reading, and like to read good books by good authors this is a way to find them,” Sheridan said.
More than a dozen representatives from participating “Tale” institutions gather monthly at Richmond Memorial Library to plan each year’s reading project. Once a title is selected and an author confirmed – usually in late summer or early fall – work begins on securing extra copies of the book, planning book discussions, author events and any related programs.
Some years have included film screenings and a book review contest. On Friday, six readers had lunch with Spragg at the D & R Depot in Le Roy.
“I’m an avid reader anyways, but its always nice to have someone recommend a book and knowing that you can discuss it with others who read it is so much more exciting,” said Meghan Hauser of Perry, who has entered all four of the book review contests. She was among this year’s winners.
“And to have a chance to meet the author? How can you resist,” she said.
Frances McNulty of Batavia had never been to a book discussion until she went to one for the 2003 Tale. Now she’s a regular, often going to a discussion at Richmond Library that begins at 7:45 in the morning.
“I think,” she said, “it’s a wonderful way to learn about your library.”
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Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

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