Danielle Fuller

“Getting People Together”?

“Getting People Together”?: Producing a “City of Big Readers” in Chicago.

Although not the first “One Book, One Community” program to be staged in the USA, “One Book, One Chicago” has rapidly become a model for mass reading events, not only in North America, where there are over 130 city- , state-, province- and region-wide programs, but also in the UK where it was the direct inspiration for the BBC’s “The Big Read” (2003) and Bristol’s “Great Reading Adventure” (2003ff.).  Running twice a year, propelled by substantial city funds and a veritable army of cultural workers, “One Book, One Chicago” operates as a prestige brand that sells a particular notion of literacy and community as well as many copies of the selected books.  It offers a fascinating example of a particular contemporary formation of ‘textual production,’ one that helps to foreground the material structures and ideological forces involved in making an audience of readers in the twenty-first century.

‘“Getting People Together”?’ interrogates the production and reception of “One Book, One Chicago” to determine the discursive and ideological work that this program performs in its production of an audience of readers. What meanings does this particular mass reading event lend to the reading of literary fiction in the twenty-first-century?  Who participates and who is excluded? What does the making of an audience of readers via this ‘One Book’ program achieve: can shared reading instigate a re-imagining of the city of Chicago, for example? In answering these questions, this paper will draw upon primary research conducted in October 2004 and October 2005 using a variety of methodologies including: data about readers gathered through an on-line questionnaire; qualitative interviews with organizing agencies; participant observation of reading events; group interviews with readers in various parts of the city, and textual analysis of media representations of the program.  This multi-layered, interdisciplinary methodology enables a situated analysis of a cultural event that offers scholars a means towards a ‘book history of the present.’

Making Books, Shaping Readers

School of English, O' Rahilly Building, University College Cork, Ireland.