Anyone struggling to find a good book for a holiday gift can appreciate the work of the committee that selects the title for the annual Reading Across Rhode Island. While you may be choosing a story that will satisfy picky Uncle Morris, the committee is trying to peg a book that will appeal to a statewide readership — men and women, teens to seniors.
“Choosing the titles for Reading Across Rhode Island is no easy task,” says Kate Lentz, director of the Rhode Island Center for the Book, which hosts the annual community read that features events including lectures, community gatherings, art exhibits, poetry readings and dramatic interpretations. Seeking a good story with universal theme and language, the 28 volunteers on the selection committee read about 60 nominated titles and debated their pros and cons at monthly meetings from May to October.
This year, Reading Across Rhode Island’s 13th, the committee selected “Norwegian by Night,” by Derek B. Miller, a Boston native who lives in Oslo. In a May 2013 column in The New York Times, Susannah Meadows called the book a “charming debut” with the “brains of a literary novel and the body of a thriller.” The Economist selected it as one of the best novels of 2013.
“Norwegian by Night,” published in the United States by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, tells the story of Sheldon Horowitz, an 82-year-old Jewish New Yorker. Recently widowed, he has moved to Oslo to live with his granddaughter, Rhea, and her Norwegian husband. The old man is haunted by his days serving in Korea and the death of his son, Rhea’s father, who was killed while serving in Vietnam. One morning in Oslo, Sheldon witnesses the murder of an upstairs neighbor and takes off with her 6-year-old son, who he fears is in danger. “Norwegian by Night” appealed to the committee, Lentz says, “because of its gripping prose, appealing characters and universal themes. … [It’s] a visual, thrilling and humorous book with universal themes of conflicts, family, loss and regret.”
Reading Across Rhode Island kicks off its 13th year Jan. 31 with a panel discussion at 2 p.m. at Salve Regina University in Newport. The opener also gives book-group leaders and others an introduction to the book, along with resources and materials to develop future discussions. The annual Author Breakfast, featuring Miller as keynote speaker, is May 16 at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston. Registration forms for the breakfast will be on the Center for the Book’s website (ribook.org) in mid-February.
In between those two events is the meat of Reading Across Rhode Island’s schedule, as book groups, libraries, senior centers and schools host their own events.
While it’s hard to gauge how many people take part annually in Rhode Island, Lentz says about 25 library book clubs, 15 school programs, 5 senior centers and 40 book clubs have held events in past years. (Listings for those events can be found on the websites of local libraries or at the statewide site.)
Of course, many other people may just enjoy reading and enjoying the book on their own. One woman who contacts Lentz each year buys 10 copies of the year’s selection to give to family and friends.
Sets of “Norwegian by Night” are available for loan to classroom teachers, library discussion groups and senior centers by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. Further reading lists, book discussion guides, the author’s website, audio interviews and other material can be found at ribook.org.