Friday, April 19, 2002

'Lesson Before Dying' attracts many readers

Author Gaines in town Tuesday

By Marilyn Bauer,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        “It gave me goose bumps,” says Kathleen Due, manager of the Hyde Park branch of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. “It's the most wonderful program I have ever done at the library, and I have been a librarian for 15 years.”

        Ms. Due is referring to her experience with the city-wide On The Same Page project that has Cincinnatians jointly reading Ernest J. Gaines' A Lesson Before Dying. Ms. Due attended one of the dozens of discussion groups where readers can talk not only about the book but how the book's lessons relate to Cincinnati.

    Who: Ernest J. Gaines
    When: 2:30 p.m. Tuesday
    Where: University of Cincinnati Shoemaker Center
    Information: 556-4194
    What: Ernest J. Gaines: Louisiana Stories,a Louisiana Public Television documentary
    When: 7 p.m. Sunday
    Where: Channel 48
    What: On the Same Page: An Evening With Ernest J. Gaines, a live broadcast and call-in
    When: 8-9 p.m. Tuesday
    Where: Channel 48

        “It was fabulous,” Ms. Due says. “We had all sorts of people — older people, 16-year-olds, males and females, African-Americans and Caucasians and people who were part of interracial couples. Talking about the book made people uncomfortable, but we got the chance to see other points of view and it did start the healing process.”

        All 30 of the Hyde Park branch's copies of A Lesson Before Dying have been in circulation since the program was announced Feb. 28. The program is “going very successfully,” says Keith Kuhn, library services director for the Main Branch.

        “One of the key indicators is the circulation of the book,” he says. “In March our 1,000 copies of the book circulated 1,700 times. That's a real high circulation total for a work of fiction. Seldom during the last four weeks could you walk into the library and find a copy of the book on the shelves. It was in constant circulation.”

        Another indicator is the number of books sold. While Barnes & Noble's Kenwood and Newport locations sold about 100 copies each, Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood sold more than 2,200 copies.

        “It has been a fun, fun promotion,” says Annette Meurer, marketing and public relations manager for Joseph-Beth. “It's caused a lot of buzz around the store. Everybody's real up about it. We've sold a lot of books in six weeks.”

        Cincinnati sales last month were “spectacular.” according to Russell Perreault, a vice president with Random House's Vintage Books.

        “My best estimate is 6,000 copies sold in the Cincinnati area since Feb. 28,” Mr. Perreault says. “That's fantastic, a really good number. The author is thrilled you picked the book and thrilled to be coming to the city next week.”

        Mr. Gaines will be here to read and answer questions at a free lecture at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday at the University of Cincinnati's Shoemaker Center.

A resounding success

        From all reports, the discussion groups appear to be a resounding success. The first, held at Kaldi's Coffee House in Over-the-Rhine, drew a racially mixed group of about 20 individuals. The next two discussions, held at Sitwell's Coffee House and sponsored by the Clifton branch of the library, brought in 23 for the first discussion and 16 for the second.

        “I felt it was a really good turnout,” says Jenny Gomien, Clifton branch manager. The discussions took a little more than two hours. We talked about Ernest Gaines and the book, then spent an hour discussing what we might do as individuals to help racial healing.

        Group after group report discussions ended with talk about ways readers could take action.

        “People brought up really good points,” Ms. Meurer says. “We used the questions that were on the Cincinnati.Com Web site but drifted into other subject areas. The most important thing that happened is people came up with good suggestions of what to do in their own corner of the world to make Cincinnati better.”

Looking ahead

        Those suggestions included wearing the free On The Same Page button distributed through local libraries and performing random acts of kindness to standing up against racial slurs.

        “I was really very encouraged,” says Mr. Kuhn, who attended several discussions, “because one of the goals of the project was to get people together to talk about our differences and similarities and what we can do on an individual basis to solve some of our community's problems.

        “People left the discussions thinking very positively. They were able to sit down with strangers from another race and have a very frank and open discussion.”

        “What we keep hearing,” Ms. Meurer says, “is "What book is going to be next?' So hopefully,these groups will keep going. We attracted non-traditional users of the library with this program. On The Same Page was relevant to the community, not just the library community.”

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