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'The Big Read' event aims to revive a valuable habit

August 31, 2007

Like the steady rain that saves the parched plot of corn, it seems that "The Big Read" is coming just in time to revive Americans' reading habit.

We urge everyone in Washington County and the surrounding areas to participate in the local version of this attempt to get people reading again, and just as important, to think about what they have read.

If you doubt that this is a problem, consider the results of an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released earlier this month.

One quarter of the adults surveyed said they had not read a single book in the past year. One-third of the men surveyed hadn't read a book, as compared to a quarter of the women.

Some told poll-takers that they didn't read books because they read on the Internet, used other media to get information or were discouraged by an unsteady economy.

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It is a trend first noticed in 2004, when the National Endowment for the Arts issued its "Reading At Risk" report.

But instead of just lamenting the trend, NEA decided to do something about it. It gave 117 communities around the nation grants to hold an events in which entire communities would read one of 12 American classics.

The NEA grant was matched with $10,000 grants from the Kellogg Foundation and the Community Foundation of Washington County.

The book chosen by the local selection committee is "To Kill A Mockingbird," Harper Lee's novel about race and the justice system in a small town.

The book features some unlikely heroes and a look at how racism can poison a community by making the truth irrelevant.

The local event will begin at 5 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 23, with a showing of the Academy Award-winning movie version of the story, starring Gregory Peck, at The Maryland Theatre on South Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown.

Other events will include:

· Sept. 27, at 7 p.m., at the Washington County Free Library's downtown branch, Morgan State University Professor Burney Hollis will discuss Negro Renaissance writers Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen and Zora Neale Thurston.

· Sept. 28 to Oct. 5, at Benjamin Art Gallery, 1303 Pennsylvania Ave., in Hagerstown, there will be a juried art show based on a quote from the book's Atticus Finch: "..before I can live with other folks, I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide majority rule is a person's conscience."

· Oct. 2 at 7 p.m., discussion of the book at the library in downtown Hagerstown.

Other events are scheduled in October and will be noted here closer to the time they occur. Those who want a schedule now may visit www.neabigread.org and click on "participating communities."

By next week, local foundation officials say the schedule will be posted on their Web site at www.cfwcmd.org.

If you have questions, please e-mail them to bigread@cfwcmd.org.

Many organizations, including The Herald-Mail Co., are co-sponsoring this event.

We're doing it because we believe in the positive power of reading and the thoughts it provokes about issues, injustices and life in general.

We advise those who plan to participate in this event to get a copy of the book now and read it before attending the movie.

Why? Because there is much more in the book than could ever fit into a movie. Then the surprise when you see the movie will be that it's as good as it is, even though so much had to be left out.

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