Booked up

Nancy Cummings

Photo By David Robert

If you can read this, then Nancy Cummings has one less illiterate soul to convert. As chairperson for Nevada Reads, a local literacy-support project with financial backing from the NEA, Cummings says that in the epic battle of TV, videogames and the Internet versus classic literature, books have been falling faster than a red-headed geek at recess. She hopes that a couple months worth of author visits, readings, lectures and movie screenings could at least light a fuse that might catch and start to turn things around.

The program is called “Nevada Reads.” Does Nevada read?

If they don’t, we’re sure going to try to get them to.

How? What’s the plan?

We’re starting with Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. We picked it because of its perennial themes. It deals with the eternal struggle between censorship and freedom of thought, which, of course, is just as relevant now as it’s ever been. Think of it as a city-wide book club. We hope by “assigning” the book, we can facilitate bringing people together in conversation about it. We hope they’ll discuss and explore classic themes like censorship and critical thought. In Fahrenheit 451, the proliferation of television erodes interest in reading.

Is the death of the book at hand?

One of the reasons we are embarking on this program, and one of the reasons we’ve gotten full-funding for it is because the NEA put out a report earlier this year called “Reading at Risk,” which focused on the fact that literary reading is rapidly declining, especially among young people. Again, we hope that Fahrenheit 451 may get the community talking.

As far as the death of the book being at hand—people have been predicting that for decades. We do see glimmers of hope, otherwise. At the public library every year circulation of library materials increases. That’s a good sign. And that’s not just so-called “junk food” books but quality literature across the board.

One of the other things we hope will happen in these discussion groups is that people will take the time to discuss the future of the book as we proceed though the new century. There are all kinds of different ways you can enjoy a book, with downloadable audio and the like. The demise of the printed word will never come. Hopefully, the serious novel will find its niche.

With all of the blogs now, books being written on the Internet that are joint-shared projects, I think there is something to be said that maybe will encourage reading. After all, you have to be able to read to use the Internet.

What else is going to make Nevada Read?

We’re still working things out, but the city of Reno fire department is going to take part in the project. There’s the Get Caught Reading campaign, where we encourage you to take a picture of someone if you see them reading. You’ll be able to submit the pictures on the library Web site, and there will be other locations to be announced where people can submit their pics.

A more formal Get Caught Reading portrait project is going to be done by some of the photography students at TMCC. Then there’s our reading relay. That’s a continuous read of the Bradbury book out loud at one location starting in the morning, and we’ll hopefully finish the last chapter on the steps of the legislature building at 5 or 6 p.m.

Whatever happened to the book mobile?

We still have them.

How can I help Nevada Read?

People who might want to volunteer to help us should call Friends of the Library coordinator Michelle Walsch at 742-2461. We need volunteers who might like to prepare the books and also to train to lead book discussions. We’re really trying to get the private sector involved, trying to get the corporate world to put together book discussion groups among their employees.