Joining Forces

Opportunities to come together

BIC Director Christie Hinrichs
BIC Director Christie Hinrichs

For many of our friends in library and university communities, 2015 will see some of the most significant budget shortfalls in recent memory. As program resources increasingly diminish, even successful and longstanding Common Reads initiatives are left hanging in the balance. Worse still, these challenges come at a time when building common ground among students, citizens and diverse cultures is more important than ever. But it's not all doom and gloom - sometimes the very challenges that threaten to divide us become opportunities to bring us together. And that's where Books In Common can help!

As a non-profit Literary Events Consultancy, our #1 goal is to ensure that Common Reads coordinators-be they First Year Experience administrators, One Book One Community planners, teachers or librarians-have exactly what they need for the success of their programs. Sure, we can always help get the very best authors for your literary events, usually at a significant discount off standard honoraria. But more importantly, we'll collaborate with you in the earliest stages of planning, offering a wealth of ideas and solutions gleaned from the thousands of event planners we've helped. For so many of the venues we now work with, this collaboration has facilitated outstanding programs that continue year after year.

So, what do you do when the forces that be slash funding and pull back support? Our advice is to band together! We've worked to create connections among university departments, community organizations, and local businesses in the effort to combine resources and programming ideas. Below you'll find a few tips we've shared with our venues, which often have saved a program from being discontinued-and sometimes have helped the coordinators create even stronger and more impactful events!
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A Look At: Grand Valley State Community Reads

Grand Valley State UniversityBrian Jbara from Grand Valley State Community Reads explains how his community comes together for a common book.

Would you tell us a bit about your program? For instance how long has Grand Valley State been hosting the Community Reading Project, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?

The program is in its 11th year, and is focused on including all of campus and community (unlike first year read, per se). It was started specifically to provide interdisciplinary learning opportunities across campus, and to this day, it has stayed true to that. Each year we try to select a different themed book that addresses big issues or ideas, is accessible, and is "sticky" in nature: we want discussions to entail multiple perspectives.

How long have you been involved in the Community Reading Project? What have you learned from this position?

This is my third full year on the project. I've learned a lot about working with a diverse group of people, all of whom have unique interests and goals for a program. It's exciting but really requires a delicate balance.  



Reyna Grande, author of The Distance Between Us
What did you learn from last year's program that is helping you this year? What are you changing; what worked well?


I've learned specifically about the value of adapting and being flexible. The best-laid plans never work out as you anticipate, so keeping things open and flexible is key to keeping everything together, especially during the author visit!

What advice or tips can you share with us about hosting a university-wide Common Reads Program?

Ask around; share advice and best practices. Some of the most helpful ideas have come from other universities that have already done something or that have tried and not been successful.  


A Look At: Club Book

David Katz, Club Book coordinator, discusses how Club Book came about and how it enriches the participating communities in Minnesota through literature.

Would you tell us a bit about your program?  For instance how long has Club Book been coordinating literary events, how did it get started, and how has it changed over the years?

Club Book is a unique player on the Minnesota literary events scene. We collaborate with all eight library systems in the Twin Cities to bring bestselling and award-winning authors to library audiences in all corners of our metro area. In effect, this positions us to host big names in suburban communities that might otherwise not have this kind of cultural opportunity.

Club Book owes its genesis to a piece of 2008 state legislation called the "Legacy Amendment," which includes a special Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund. Our program is only one of hundreds in Minnesota that owes its existence to the Heritage Fund.

Organizers put on the first season in 2010, with highlights including events featuring Frances Mayes, Tim O'Brien, and Garrison Keillor. Club Book has grown and changed, in one way or another, during each of the ten seasons between then and now.

We gave the program a much-needed brand overhaul, and built a dynamic new website to match ( One of the more innovative and popular features on the site is an interactive timeline that allows visitors to look at which authors have participated in Club Book to date - plus where, and when.

Most importantly, I think, we've extended the reach and longevity of the brand with a podcast component. As of 2014, most Club Book events are audio recorded and made available to anyone for streaming or download on iTunes (search "Club Book") and our website. This has been a resounding success. Even a modest Club Book event featuring a local author can expect to fetch a couple hundred hits as a podcast.

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Author Interview: Denise Kiernan

Photo by Treadshots
At the height of World War II, thousands of civilian women were recruited to work in a secret city, where they were told their efforts would end the war. Few would ever guess the true nature of the tasks they performed in the hulking factories amid the Appalachian Mountains. Denise Kiernan, author of The Girls of Atomic City, rescues a remarkable, forgotten chapter of American history from obscurity.  Here, she discusses how her book has resonated with students across the United States.

Any idea how many Common Reads events you've done over the years?

 So far I have been connecting with colleges, universities and even high schools. There are a lot of inspirational women (and men!) in The Girls of Atomic City, and their experiences connect with a wide audience, especially younger adults. 

What do you like about the Campus/Freshmen Class Reads structure as a literary event format?

I thoroughly enjoy being able to interact with the students and get their perspective on that moment in history in general, as well as my book specifically. The kids I meet at Campus/Freshman Reads events are the same age as the majority of the people in my book. The young women and men in my book left home at 18, went off to a place they'd never seen before, ate in cafeterias, slept in dorms, made friends, went to dances, fell in love... They were on their own for the first time and in that way it is very similar to the experiences of incoming freshmen. Of course, the people interviewed for my book were forbidden from knowing more than they were permitted and were cautioned not to get too curious or ask too many questions about what they were working on. Students at university are strongly encouraged to be curious, explore, and investigate the world around them.

Any thoughts on how they could be more effective? 

I was impressed by how Ole Miss handled The Girls of Atomic City as their common read. They got so many different departments and professors involved and have even gone so far as to feature concerts where the music was inspired by my book. The library created an entire resource site within their university website that has all kinds of related articles, studies and books. I do think most schools could focus more on encouraging interaction between the author and the student body. Normally, the author gives a speech and there's a signing and I don't think the students--who have already read the book--get as much of a chance to really interact with the author as they could. It's a great opportunity for them, and having a forum in which the students could share their thoughts and ask questions might be nice. I really enjoy the events, though. Students raise my spirits.

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Books In Common Supported Events

Adam Shepard at Armstrong State University in Savannah, Ga.
Over 210 students and staff attended either the main presentation or classroom visits giving students the opportunity to discuss Adam's book, Scratch Beginnings, and the themes of race, homelessness and other hot topics. -- Delana Gajdosik-Nivens  

Reyna Grande at University of Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa
"The staff consensus was that Reyna's talk was the most interesting part. The audience was engaged and had good questions." -- Joan Nashelsky

Regina Calcaterra at Children Awaiting Parents in Rochester, N.Y.
"In my opinion the most eventful moments were the reactions from an adult mother that had experienced abuse and neglect as she grew up. Later in life she understood that her mother had mental-health issues and they affected her rational way of interacting with her children. We also had several of our teen population in attendance for the evening event. A few cried as the thoughts of why they were removed from their homes came full circle. The conversation and hearing a fresh new successful voice on making it through the tough times gave a lot of hope and a restart of courage for some." -- Pat Burks

Christina Baker Kline at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
"Christina's talk was the most interesting part-not a particular moment but really the whole talk. She was so engaging and the information was so interesting. Even my teenage daughters were riveted the whole time." -- Cathe Olson

Guadalupe Garcia McCall at Fort Smith Schools in Fort Smith, Ark.
"What a treat! Her message to the students was powerful and life-changing. They listened to her respectfully and many approached her at the end of her presentation to talk or have their picture taken with her. One of the students at the night presentation told her " You are my hero!". This is certainly an experience that they will remember for the rest of their lives."  -- Ines Robles-Hough

Click here for more Books in Common Events

Book Reviews

We've identified these books as particularly well suited for your Community / Campus reading event!

The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
Looking for a way to bring a classic book into perspective for your community? To Kill A Mockingbird has been a mainstay on high school and college campuses for years, not to mention a diehard following among book lovers. Now there's a fresh perspective on the author. Marja Mills' new memoir, The Mockingbird Next Door, tells the story of the 18 months she spent living next door to Nelle Harper Lee and her sister, Alice. As she explores the Harper sisters' hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, Marja Mills is able to bring the elusive Harper Lee into sharper focus, and shed light on some of the discussion points and topics that have made To Kill A Mockingbird a classroom must-read for decades.

This book is a great addition to any program, whether it includes To Kill A Mockingbird or not. The Mockingbird Next Door touches on many teachable themes including American history, civil rights, southern culture, race, religion, politics and fame. Mills' reflection opens up the opportunity to discuss the many changes the American South has gone through, and how race is viewed today through the eyes of Nelle and Alice Lee. "Though segregation has ended, that doesn't mean there isn't a terrific social stratum still in place." How would your community respond?

Prudence by David Treuer
David Treuer's upcoming novel, Prudence, follows people involved in a tragic act of violence on a fateful summer day in 1942, and the 10 years that follow in a story of love, loss, race and World War II. In the center of the tragedy is Frankie Washburn, a young man visiting his family's Minnesota resort before he leaves for war. The characters around him include his mother, the Native American handyman/father figure, his distant father and his childhood friend as they all deal with the impact of that fateful day. David Treuer beautifully describes each character's inner-struggle with his/her own desires, wishes and perceptions that shape their actions throughout Prudence.

Prudence has many teachable themes and discussion points including prejudice, racism, Native American culture, social privilege, family, sexual identity, masculinity, friendship and American war culture during World War II. Prudence is ideal for All Campus Reads or First Year Experience programs, but would be a great selection for Community Reads as well.

13 Hours in Benghazi by Mitchell Zuckoff
September 11th, 2012: terrorists attacked both the US State Department Special Mission Compound and the CIA station in Benghazi, Libya. Award winning journalist and #1 New York Times bestselling author, Mitchell Zuckoff interviewed and researched the people involved in protecting the US Compound for his book, 13 Hours in Benghazi. He presents the most legitimate account of the September 11th account and what actually happened during the attack by the Libyans on the U.S. compound in Benghazi. It's an action-packed narrative by those who were on the ground in harm's way, without all the rhetoric from politicians or media. 13 Hours allows you to form your own opinions on the events that occurred that night. This fast paced, true tale brings home the fact that "war truly is hell" even when we are not calling it a war.
Many different Common Reads programs can use 13 Hours for discussions on politics, religion, media, military, and more. The attacks in Benghazi are still fresh in the memories and minds of many Americans, which makes this book a perfect starting point for current discussion.


The Books In Common Newsletter
February 2015
Denise Kiernan, author of The Girls of Atomic City,  discusses the teachable moments in her book.
Check out these Upcoming Events Arranged by 
Books in Common  

  February 6th 2015:

Bee Ridgeway, author of The River of No Return, will present at a library in Connecticut.


February 11th, 2015:

Garth Stein, author of the New York Times bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain and A Sudden Light, will present as part of an author series in Oregon. 


February 12th, 2015:

Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars and The Painter, will present as part of an author series in Minnesota.

 February 17th 2015:

Marja Mills, author of The Mockingbird Next Door, will visit a literary society in Florida.


 February 18th 2015:

Christina Baker Kline, author of the NYT bestseller Orphan Train, will present a high school in Connecticut.


 February 24th 2015:

Christina Baker Kline will present at a community reads in Minnesota.


February 25th 2015:
Reyna Grande, author of
The Distance Between Us, will present at an all campus reads in California.


March 5th 2015:

Ann Kirschner, author of The Lady at the OK Corral, will deliver a presentation for a community reads in Arizona.


March 6th 2015:

Ann Kirschner will present at a country club in Arizona.


March 11th 2015:

Christina Baker Kline will visit a library luncheon in New Jersey.

March 13th 2015:

Reyna Grande will present at a community reads in Georgia.

March 15th 2015:

Garth Stein will present at an author luncheon in Arizona.


March 16th 2015:

Reyna Grande will present at a high school in Washington.


March 16-20th 2015:

Christina Baker Kline will present at a community reads in Pennsylvania.


March 19th 2015:

Regina Calcaterra, author of Etched in Sand, will present during a college author series in New York.

Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, will present at a community reads in Minnesota.


March 23rd 2015:

Mary Francis Berry, author of And Justice for All, will present at a university forum series in North Carolina.


March 24th, 2015:

Reyna Grande will present for a national organization in Washington, DC.


March 25th 2015:

Reyna Grande will visit Anne Arundel at a community college in Maryland.


March 26th 2015:

Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise, will present at a community reads in 

New York.

March 28th 2015:

Regina Calcaterra will present for a high school in Maryland.


March 29th 2015:

Garth Stein will present for community reads program in California.


March 31st 2015:

Garth Stein will visit a community reads program in California.


Christina Baker Kline will visit a community reads program in Kentucky.


April 2nd 2015:

Christina Baker Kline will visit a common reads program in Kentucky.


April 8th 2015:

Christina Baker Kline will present at a common reads program in Texas.


April 14th 2015:

Sonia Taitz, author of The Watchmaker's Daughter, will present at a literary society in Florida.


Regina Calcaterra will visit a charity program in North Carolina.


Garth Stein will visit a literary event in Washington.


April 15th 2015:

Christina Baker Kline will present at a high school in Massachusetts.

Tracie McMillan, author of The American Way of Eating, will present at a common reads program in Michigan.


April 16th 2015:

Peter Heller will present at a library in Colorado.


Lisa Genova, author of Still Alice, will present at a common reads program in Massachusetts.


Regina Calcaterra will present at a charity luncheon in New Jersey.


April 17th 2015:

Garth Stein will visit an author dinner in Virginia.


April 18th 2015:

Christina Baker Kline is presenting at a library in New York.


April 19th 2015:

Sonia Taitz will visit a literary society in Illinois.

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