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Athenaeum and WSC to host community reading project

By Michelle Symington

MetroWest Reminder Assistant Editor

WESTFIELD The Westfield Athenaeum and Westfield State College have joined forces to sponsor a community reading project to encourage members of the community to read the same book and participate in discussions about the novel.

The project, Westfield Reads: One City, One Book, will focus on the best-selling novel The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, which won the National Book Award.

Copies of the book are on sale at a discounted price of $10 at the Athenaeum for those who would like to purchase it and a number of copies are available to borrow from the library.

Christopher Lindquist, director of the Westfield Athenaeum, said the Athenaeum hosted a community reading project for the first time last year surrounding the book Deborah Remembers. The book was targeted at a young audience.

"This year we're going in a different direction," he said. "The book is for adults and is more challenging."

He added that the library and college are targeting honors high school students, college students and adults for the program this year.

He added that community read programs are popular in libraries and communities across the country.

Lindquist contacted Westfield State College last summer and told a college representative that he was thinking about doing a community read and the college expressed interest in being involved.

"We talked about an appropriate book of interest and the college felt Franzen would be of interest," he said.

Lindquist said Franzen was chosen because he won the National Book Award and he "gained a lot of notoriety when Oprah selected it for her book club."

"We decided it is something we would like to have the community read," he said.

Lindquist said The Corrections is a "wonderful book" that will give people insights into contemporary society and will provoke interesting discussions.

"It is really interesting when you include people from the community from all different ages and interests and [have them] all focus on one text at the same time," he said.

He added that community reading projects attract a cross-section of the community.

"You get a lot of feedback when you have people from the community sit down to discuss one particular book at the same time," he said, adding that discussions may turn into a cross generational forum.

He explained that families can read the same book and discuss the different perspectives and people from different age groups and ethnic backgrounds may also have different perspectives about the same book.

He added that the discussions may also act as an outlet for people new to the area to meet their neighbors.

"It is an opportunity for people to get to know one another and it is a great opportunity for the library to sponsor that," he said.

According to Lindquist, the program may encourage people to stretch their interests. For example, he said someone who may usually read mystery or best-seller books may decide to pick up a book that the community is reading.

"It could cause some people to step outside their normal reading habits," he said.

Lindquist said The Corrections is a challenging book that critics have called one of the best books in the 21st Century and was widely praised by the New York Times.

The Westfield Athenaeum hosts book discussions throughout the year surrounding different pieces of work. However, Lindquist said the community reading project "does go beyond the normal book forum."

"It is a larger scope and we really do want to get hundreds of people from the community reading the same book at the same time," he said.

The community reading project is something Lindquist said he would like to see continue.

"I can see us doing a community read every year," he said.

He added that he would love to hear suggestions for future titles from members of the community. Whether it be fiction or non-fiction, he said he would like something that would provoke people in discussions.

For this year's community read, Franzen himself will visit the city in April to do a public reading of The Corrections.

Lindquist said he contacted Franzen's agent in California to see if he would visit Westfield. He added that visiting a community that is all reading his book is different that his normal visits. Lindquist said Franzen travels the country visiting college campuses and meeting with students.

Lindquist added that Franzen was interested when he heard the city was doing a community reading.

Franzen will read from his book April 6 at 7 p.m. at the Westfield Women's Club, 28 Court St. Tickets for the event are $7.50 per person and can be purchased by calling the Westfield Athenaeum at (413) 568-0638.

Franzen will be signing copies of his book after the reading.

Prior to the reading, Westfield on Weekends will sponsor a pre-reading reception with Franzen in the Reed Room of the Westfield Athenaeum. The reception will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 and include the reception, a ticket to the reading and a copy of the book. For tickets, call the Athenaeum.

In addition to the reading and reception, the Athenaeum Book Forum will host a discussion about the book on April 18 at 7 p.m. at th Athenaeum. Anyone interested are welcome to attend.

A discussion guide with questions surrounding the story is available at the library.