'If Oprah can do it, why can't we?'

Looking for a way to connect with your community? Try picking up a book. Two years ago the Seattle Public Library sponsored a citywide reading program, "What If All Seattle Read the Same Book?" And now the community-book-club trend is gaining momentum in other US cities.

This summer, book lovers in Enumclaw, Wash., undertook to collectively achieve 10 million minutes of reading (a little more than 19 years) by Sept. 10.

Readers have been tallying up their minutes for each week and dropping slips of paper off at schools, libraries, and participating businesses.

Eager participants in the Hometown Bookclub, sponsored by city library officials and a bookstore, follow the unofficial motto: "If Oprah can do it, why can't we?" Still going strong, the town had already surpassed their goal, with more than 11 million minutes by the end of May. But what else could you expect from a city of 10,000 where 350 children have signed up for the summer reading program at the local library?

This spring, Kentucky Educational Television sponsored "What If All Kentucky Read the Same Book?" More than 9,000 adults and students statewide joined in reading "The Bean Trees," by Kentucky native Barbara Kingsolver. The event culminated with Ms. Kingsolver's joining a TV-studio audience for a reading and discussion. KET even offered "mini-grants" of $50 to people who planned viewing parties at home the night the TV special aired.

"This project was a way to have intergenerational discussion," says Tona Barklay, a spokeswoman for KET. She also says the program spiked participation in their monthly Kentucky writers online book club by 700 percent.

Residents of Rochester, N.Y., spent this spring reading "A Lesson Before Dying," a novel by Ernest J. Gaines that addresses racial tensions in 1940s Louisiana. Participants found themselves striking up conversations with strangers also wearing red "I'm reading Ernest Gaines" buttons. The author visited the city in March, and the program culminated with a stage production of the novel.

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