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Washtenaw Reads

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The Washtenaw Reads program is a community initiative to promote reading and civic dialogue through the shared experience of reading and discussing a common book. Participating libraries include Ann Arbor, Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township, Saline, and Ypsilanti.

2020 Washtenaw Reads

The Washtenaw Reads Screening Committee held their final meeting on July 23 and selected two finalists for the 2020 Reads. 26 books in all were considered, identified both by committee members and suggestions received from the public. Most titles fell into the realm of the theme selected for this year “Everyone Counts”. A broad interpretation of that theme included women’s suffrage, voting rights and history, citizenship, immigration concerns, etc. The final choices were guided by the official criteria and as it happens the two top choices are eloquently told personal stories that relate to immigration and who “counts” as an American. These titles are:

Dear America: Notes of an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas

Vargas begins by recounting his childhood discovery that he was an undocumented American who had been brought to the U.S. from the Philippines. His life as an extremely successful journalist, however, required constructing an identity based on a series of lies in order to maintain his life in the U.S. Finally realizing that “Before I could write any more stories, I had to investigate my life. To free myself--in fact, to face myself -- I had to write my story” Vargas published his story in the New York Times Magazine in 2011 and this book details the aftermath of his honesty and his continued work speaking, writing, documenting and advocating on behalf of undocumented citizens. Dear America is not a political book, but a memoir that asks: “Who gets to exercise their rights as U.S. citizens, and why?" We also see it as relevant to the controversy about asking a citizenship question on the 2020 census.

The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu

Cantu, a third generation Mexican-American, served for four years in the U.S. Border Patrol service, both on the ground and in intelligence gathering. His experience on the front line of the border elucidates the brutality with which refugees are often treated as well as the desperation which drives refugees and others to attempt crossing despite the extreme danger and unlikely odds. Interspersed with his narrative is the history of the development of the border which is likely to be illuminating to many readers. Finally, Cantu tells the story of a friend, an undocumented man whose 30 years in the US as an exemplary employee, father, and contributor to his community fails to help him when he is prevented from returning the U.S. after returning to Mexico to visit his dying mother. Some controversy associated with the book from those who believe that it is the undocumented/refugees who should be heard from directly instead.

Both titles are available as paperbacks, large print, eBooks, eAudiobooks, and books on CD.

History of Washtenaw Reads

Launched in 2003 by the University of Michigan Life Sciences, Values and Society Program, the Reads project was fashioned after a civic reads program designed by the Seattle Public Library. The book chosen for the inaugural Reads was “Lincoln’s DNA,” by Phillip R. Reilly. The Ann Arbor District Library was a major partner in this effort along with other area organizations.

The following year, the Reads program became known as Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Reads and expanded to include Ypsilanti and was co-sponsored by the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti District Libraries and supported by interested civic groups, the University of Michigan School of LS&A, the Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti Public Schools, local bookstores, Eastern Michigan University Libraries and Washtenaw Community College.

In 2016, the program was renamed Washtenaw Reads and expanded to include the communities and libraries of Chelsea, Dexter, Milan, Northfield Township and Saline.

Prior to 2014, each year's read had a theme, which can be viewed on the Past Reads page. Previous themes have included such subjects as: civil rights, science, citizenship and evolution.

Book Selection

Books chosen for the Reads should meet the following criteria:

  • The writing should be engaging and thought-provoking.
  • The subjects discussed should be accessible to readers throughout the community, high-school age and above.
  • The length, price, and availability of the book should be suited to involvement by the general public.
  • The book should be by a living author.
  • Its treatment of issues should encourage readers to discuss the issues further with others, at home, work, reading clubs, and community events.
  • Ideally, the subject should lead to constructive dialogues across our diverse communities.

Process:
During the summer the Book Screening Committee made up of individuals selected as representative of various civic constituencies read many titles reflecting the year’s theme. In the fall, a panel of distinguished judges review the two titles suggested by the Screening Committee and made a final recommendation of the Reads book for the coming year.

Washtenaw Reads is scheduled to occur January through February 2020. Please watch this site for more information.