“The Book Is Just The Beginning” – Part 1

The “One Book One Chicago” (OBOC) program has evolved since the fall of 2001, expanding and diversifying its programming around the city. As noted in an earlier post, reading the chosen OBOC book is only one kind of participation in the larger social space of engagement with literary culture.

Archiving Chicago Public Library’s One Book materials, English graduate student Mihaela Stoica has documented the great variety of OBOC-related events of the past several seasons. The main branch of the CPL holds physical files for previous OBOC seasons, with information on programming ideas, event photos, advertisements, and invoices. Such material has, to date, been unexplored by scholars — but now it is being catalogued as part of our “Reading Chicago Reading” project.

With access to files for the last six OBOC seasons, Mihaela created spreadsheets of public events for each OBOC book as well as for the library’s associated book recommendations. Ultimately, as we join this data together we hope to be able to track the impact of recommendations on checkout data.

Most notable has been an increase in the diversity of programs offered in recent years to encourage the public to connect and communicate about its reading.

Although past seasons have relied mainly on the “book club” format, recent seasons have branched out from book discussions to events that showcase much more than the book’s literary content. For the 2011 season on Saul Bellow’s Adventures of Augie March (the tenth anniversary of the program), CPL OBOC conducted over one hundred book discussions around the city and sponsored the “Book Club in a Bag” feature that made available a tote bag containing eight copies of the book as well as resource guides and tips to facilitate book club activities. In addition, the library’s main branch and Victory Gardens Theater organized several lectures and performances, such as “Chicago in the Time of Augie” and “I am Augie – A Staged Reading” with Chicago historian Dominic Pacyga and the novelist Martin Amis. DePaul University’s English department contributed as well by hosting a flash fiction contest with Chicago’s own Stuart Dybek as judge.

While Bellow’s novel centered on book club and lecture programming, the 2015/16 OBOC season, on Thomas Dyja’s The Third Coast, saw an even greater variety of library-sponsored events. CPL offered more than just the book, and more than just discussion of it as a whole — instead increasing the use of social media. The 2015/16 OBOC season was notable for its emphasis on discovering Chicago’s rich urban tapestry. Walking tours with “urbanologist” Max Grinnell presented Chicagoans with opportunities to explore neighborhoods and discover the city’s architecture. There were tours, presentations, discussions, and performances at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Old Town School of Folk Music, showcasing the city’s public art, sculpture, and music. The whimsical “Really Tiny House” workshop series at the main branch’s Maker Lab introduced audiences to tips on how to make dolls, rugs, gardens, and 3D tables for tiny houses. This event series culminated with the OBOC “Really Tiny House Block Party” and “Really Tiny House Competition” to celebrate the end of the 2015/16 season.

The current (2016/17) season, on Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, shows a still wider range of events. While book discussions remain a major part of the schedule, other offerings extend beyond the text, including: Coffee Roasting Basics, Intro to Beer Brewing, Dining Out in Chicago, What’s the Buzz About Beekeeping, Cupcake Decorating Workshops, use of a laser cutter in the HWLC Maker Lab, lectures on ways to preserve the harvest, learning about the Global Garden Refugee Training Farm, film screenings of Food Patriots, and walking tours. All of these activities expand outward from Kingsolver’s book – her text is one element in a transmedial food ecology in the city now – and represent just some of the variety of programming CPL has offered this season. Kingsolver’s book has become a catalyst for city-wide conversations about food as a social, political, and economic phenomena.