Tale for Three Counties librarians, readers learn to trust each other

Saturday, March 31, 2012
By Ben Beagle bbeagle@batavianews.com

The librarians that organize each year’s “A Tale for Three Counties” read dozens of books before deciding on just the right title for the annual community reading project.

And while each of the chosen books are generally well-regarded with strong reviews and awards, the choices still come with reservations.

This year, there was concern how readers would respond to Yannick Murphy’s “The Call,” a family drama told in an untraditional way. Last year’s selection, Hillary Jordan’s “Mudbound,” had challenging subject matter as it depicted racism and brutal violence. In 2008, Thomas Mullen’s “The Last Town on Earth” left some readers uncomfortable with its graphic descriptions of people who died in the 1918 flu pandemic.

But after 10 books, readers have come to trust the choices made by Tale organizers. Likewise, the librarians that make the selection have also learned they can trust readers to follow Tale anywhere it asks them to go.

“The issue of trust is really important, and it does grow. People will say it must be worth reading because it’s been recommended by the group,” said Nancy Pearl, the retired Seattle librarian often credited with starting the one-book, one-community movement.

Murphy’s “The Call,” featured in the Tale program which ended last weekend, explores how a family copes after its daily rhythms are disrupted by a hunting accident that seriously injures their oldest son. The story is told over a period of several seasons, but not as a conventional narrative. Murphy instead relays the story through daily logs written by the boy’s father, a large-animal veterinarian in rural New England.

“I wasn’t sure I’d like how it was set up, but I couldn’t resist trying,” Nancy Hayes of Byron said after Murphy’s March 22 program at Batavia’s Richmond Memorial Library. “And once I started, I found it fascinating by the way she told the story.”

Being recommended by Tale carried a lot of weight for Hayes.

“I know if they’ve chosen it, it will be considered well written. I could expect it to be very different from something I normally read,” Hayes said. “And that’s part of the fun.”

Through the years, readers have said many times they picked up the book to share the community reading experience that Tale provides — even when the book isn’t the kind they typically read.

Ryan Neal of Batavia is more likely to seek out the latest hefty bestseller from Stephen King or Richard North Patterson than a slight paperback with a bright orange cover and silhoutted cow. But after discovering Tale through last year’s selection of “Mudbound,” Neal returned this year with “The Call.”

“I like that someone is leading me to stuff I wouldn’t normally read,” he said. “It’s absolutely worth picking up.”

Added Corrie Beach of Batavia: “For the most part, these are not books I normally read. But they’ve been very good and give me different perspectives to think about.”

Such praise is reassuring to the librarians who will begin meeting again in two weeks in search of the book for the 2013 Tale program. The selection is usually announced in the fall.

The librarians — from the 19 libraries in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties, and Genesee Community College — choose books based on several criteria. These include being a work of fiction that depicts rural or small town family life, having received critical acclaim through outstanding professional reviews or literary awards, having lots of topics for discussion, and that will be both worthy and respectful of a broad audience from students to retirees. They are also careful not to choose of book that is too close in theme or style to a previous pick.

“Each book has been quite different from all the others and each author tends to develop their own set of followers,” said Leslie DeLooze, the Richmond librarian who first started organizing the Tale project in 2002. “It’s safe to say, though, that anyone who has invested the time in reading any of these books has become richer for that experience, and that is certainly one goal of ‘A Tale for Three Counties.'”

Readers are increasingly bringing their own expectations to each new Tale selection.

“I always expect it to be thought-provoking,” said Denise Glidden of Batavia. “Even ‘The Art of Racing in the Rain’ was different. It was told from the perspective of a dog.”

Julie Wright of Batavia said she “would be surprised” if the Tale selection “was not a good book.”

“I’ve read such a nice variety of books” through Tale, she said.

Linda Morris of Perry has participated in the past eight Tale programs, and said she discovered some of her favorite books because Tale chose them.

“I’ve enjoyed totally all these different styles of writing,” Morris said. “It’s totally new to me, unlike anything I read.”

Being selected by Tale, Morris said, “means that it’s going to be a quality book regardless of what the actual story is about.”

The turning point likely came in 2011.

Tale had a wildly successful program in 2010 with Garth Stein’s best-seller “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” Stein, whose book was already a bestseller when it was selected for Tale, was probably the author with the greatest name recognition among Tale selections. It showed as his programs have been among the best-attended of Tale’s 10 years.

The librarians behind Tale felt pressure to find a book for 2011 that would be as strong a pull to readers. They looked at dozens of books, but kept revisiting Jordan’s acclaimed debut novel “Mudbound.” The story, set in the Mississippi Delta in the years just after World War II, examines the life of two families — one black, one white — struggling on a ramshackle cotton farm.

“Mudbound,” said DeLooze, had an extremely compelling story, offered a variety of perspectives through which to view the story and provided many topics to discuss.

But the book also offered a difficult scene where members of the Klu Klux Klan violently attack Ronsel, a young black war veteran. And there are horrifying descriptions about the release of prisoners from the German prison camp at Dachau and another about a farm family whose mother had to protect her daughters from sexual abuse.

At book discussions last year, readers noted how they forged on through the upsetting content and began to look at the book in a different way. Another re-examined his own life and the affects of an abusive father. Many reminisced about the hardships of farm life, or said it was an important book that should be written and should be read.

“Reading a book like this allows us to learn about events in history as well as social conditions, lets us observe characters and their reactions to these events, and makes us think about what we would do in a similar situation or living conditions,” DeLooze said.

“None of these situations were easy to read about, but that doesn’t mean that we avoid the topics altogether.”

Back to Articles 2012
Courtesy of Batavia Newspapers Corporation

Comments are closed