One Book, One Chicago is financial boon for some local booksellers

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A city information display board in the Loop advertises this year’s One Book, One Chicago initiative. Lyndsey McKenna/Medill

By Lyndsey McKenna

Chicagoans should expect to see copies of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” on the rise on El trains and in coffee shops across the city, thanks to the 2014-2015 “One Book, One Chicago” initiative

One Book, One Chicago is a joint project of the Chicago Public Library, Chicago Public Library Foundation and City of Chicago aimed at fostering a spirit of community through reading. The program launched in the fall of 2001 with Harper Lee’s classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

This year’s selection, the program’s 25th overall, is Michael Chabon’s 2000 novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.” The story follows two cousins in the years before, during and after World War II during the golden age of comic books. The novel won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Programs about the novel begin Thursday with a discussion between Angel Ysaguirre, executive director of the Illinois Humanities Council, and author Michael Chabon at the Harold Washington Library Center at 6 p.m. Book discussions will take place over the next few months at library branches citywide.

Leland Elder, a media and marketing representative for the Chicago Public Library, said the program is designed for anyone and everyone in the greater Chicago area.

The initiative may be a noble civic promotion, but it also benefits sales at local bookstores.

Jeff Deutsch, general manager of the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore in Hyde Park, said that the program positively impacts business.

“It’s about raising awareness about great literature and reading as a cultural and recreational activity,” said Deutsch. “Anytime people are talking about books and reading in general, it’s a great thing for the bookstore community at large.”

According to Katharine Solheim, bookseller and buyer at Unabridged Bookstore in Lakeview, the shop typically sees an increase in sales of One Book, One Chicago selections.

“We have a special display that we set up each time, so right now, we have a display out in our fiction section for Chabon,” Solheim said. “People also come in and ask for the promotional materials from the library that are distributed to booksellers.”

Dominique Washington, an employee at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park, said, “When books get the [One Book, One Chicago] seal, everyone wants to read it and be involved with the program.”

But many of the selections are classics that sell quite steadily. Past picks have included “Night” by Elie Wiesel, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and “The Crucible” by Arthur Miller.

This year’s selection is available at most Chicago Public Library branches. The library has more than 1,200 paperback copies of “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.” There are 76 audiobooks available as CD-ROMs, and the book is also available from the library as an eBook.