Sunday, May 6, 2007

One Nation/One Book?

Friday I read on-line that Attleboro, Mass. is one of the latest communities in the United States to sponsor a One City/One Book program. The One City/One Book programs are campaigns to promote reading: a municipal library suggests a specific book, and people throughout the community read it during a set time period and discuss it.

Then I pondered the absurd notion of "One Nation/One Book." I suppose the closest we'll ever come to that is Oprah's Book Club. Still, I love the idea of a nationwide book discussion. A lot of candidates came to mind: Democracy in America, 1984, Collapse.

But ultimately I settled on Henry Kamen's Empire: How Spain Became A World Power, 1492-1763. The last time I read it, I was particularly struck by the incredible talent shown by Spain's rulers for squandering good fortune. After the conquest of Mexico in 1521, staggering amounts of gold and silver flowed into Spain from the mines of the New World. But rather than enriching the country, the gold and silver simply flowed into Spanish ports and right back out again, to make payments on the monarchy's staggering debts and to buy manufactured goods from other nations, all the while neglecting industrial development in Spain itself.

Spain's troubles were further exacerbated by a crusading mentality among its rulers that led them into disastrous foreign adventures. The destruction of the Armada is the most famous debacle that befell Spain, but far worse in cost of lives and money was the long and unwinnable war in what is now the Netherlands. In spite of the presence of many dazzling minds, Spain stagnated intellectually during much of this period as well, thanks largely to a conservative religious establishment that easily felt threatened by ideas.

Your turn: what would you pick for One Nation/One Book?


3goodrats said...

"If you give a pig a pancake" by Laura Numeroff. You have to consider the wide range of literacy levels in this country, and I think this is a book we can all relate to and enjoy.

Christopher Waldrop said...

Considering the wide range of literacy is a good idea, although I'd still vote for A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain. Among other things his hero Hank Morgan remarks, "A man mustn't criticize others on grounds where he can't stand perpendicular himself." Wise words for any age.

Mr. Axehandle said...

I second the Numeroff proposal, though I am partial to If you give a mouse a cookie. This is about coming together and reading as a nation, and that includes the President of the United States. If his reading level are not considered, then we are emboldening the terrorists.

The other options are to fall back on an American lit classic, or to go for something practical: a book like Paco Underhill's Why We Buy.

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