"Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read," Scout, the young tomboy narrator, confides in To Kill a Mockingbird. "One does not love breathing."
Now, To Kill a Mockingbird has been called on to breathe new life into One Book, One Denver, the program that promotes reading by having everyone in the city -- everyone who wants to, at least -- get on the same page, literally, by reading and discussing one book. That's the theory, but even in this tome-loving town, the program seemed to be running out of steam after five years. Then, the Denver Office of Cultural Affairs applied for a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which has been pushing its own literary project, the Big Read, which touts more than two dozen classic books and provides back-up materials for each of them. The NEA agreed to ante up a $20,000 grant, and in exchange, everyone in the city -- everyone who wanted to, at least -- got to vote on which Big Read book should be the sixth One Book, One Denver selection (not that the NEA connection was mentioned during the voting). Harper Lee's Mockingbird was the clear winner, and last week Mayor John Hickenlooper, who started One Book, One Denver, announced a slew of free activities in connection with this big, big read.
I've always loved To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee's 1960 novel has many themes that still resonate today. But having just spent a week in Montana -- where even gas stations boast shelves of books by local authors -- I can't help but wish that this program could have another homegrown push, one that promotes Colorado authors.
This fall, the Denver Center Theatre Company is producing another play based on Kent Haruf's work, this one Eventide. His Plainsong has been a frontrunner for One Book, One Denver since the start, but has never been chosen -- allegedly because of a too-racy scene. But if we can handle a false rape allegation in To Kill a Mockingbird, I think Denver's ready to handle teenage sex.
For complete details on this year's schedule, go to www.DenverGov.org/OneBook.