The Upper Hudson Library System will be taking part in the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read 2007 program, featuring Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God.”
Here’s a bit about the Big Read:
The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts, designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. The Big Read brings together partners across the country to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.
The Big Read answers a big need. Reading at Risk: A Survey of Literary Reading in America, a 2004 report by the National Endowment for the Arts, found that not only is literary reading in America declining rapidly among all groups, but that the rate of decline has accelerated, especially among the young. The concerned citizen in search of good news about American literary culture would study the pages of this report in vain.
Of course, as with any government program, the Big Read has been criticized for not really doing enough to fulfill its mission. Bob Hoover, at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, has written:
This is my suggestion for priming the pump to promote the reading of literary fiction.
It’s a nationwide contest to come up with the definition of that most nebulous of concepts — the one book that sums up the United States and its people.
There’s little consensus on this topic as tastes and experiences change over time. The first challenge would be naming the “great” novel of the decade, starting in the early 1800s.
Think about it: What was the greatest American novel of the 1990s and why?
The NEA would compile lists of novels by decade, then seek votes. The winning book would then be promoted, discussed and maybe be made available in low-cost paperbacks to schools, along with a teaching guide.
In the final vote, all the winners would fight it out to see which one comes out on top as “the Great American Novel.”
He has more ideas here. He does have a point, though. Anyone else have good ideas about how to promote reading?