The New York City Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment recently announced its One Book, One New York initiative, a program that intends to unite all five boroughs through the act of reading. This giant book club is attempting to get as many New Yorkers as possible reading the same book at the same time.
A similar initiative was attempted in 2002, but due to organizational issues the program fell through. There have been other similar initiatives in cities like Seattle, but this will be the first time that the program will be successfully launched in New York City.
To avoid the issues of previous years, the MOME has created a website where participants can vote for their favorite of five award-winning novels, which have been recommended by various celebrities. This vote will then determine which book will fall into the hands of (hopefully) everyone in the city.
The first of the five has been nominated by American actress, singer and “Frasier” alumna, Bebe Neuwirth. Americanah, written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, follows the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, a young couple who are forced to flee from military-ruled Nigeria to the United States and London, respectively. Once Ifemelu reaches the U.S., she recognizes that what it means to be black in America is vastly different than in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, Obinze is living a separate life in London as an undocumented immigrant, due to post 9/11 travel procedures that hindered him from joining Ifemelu in America. Fifteen years later, they find each other again in Nigeria, rekindling both their love for one another and for their country.
Danielle Brooks, known for her roles in the Broadway production of “The Color Purple” and hit Netflix series “Orange Is The New Black,” recommended Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Between the World and Me offers a contemporary look at the questions, history and institutions upon which America was built, with a specific emphasis on race. Coates attempts to look at how we can reconcile with our history, exposing the realities of being black in America and how those who are different from the “norm” must wrestle with society.
Comedian Larry Wilmore’s pick is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, which follows Oscar, a man who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien. A curse that has plagued his family for generations, however, stands in the way of his dreams. Díaz allows his readers to peek at Dominican-American history through the lens of a contemporary American experience.
Giancarlo Esposito—known for his roles in “Breaking Bad” and its spinoff “Better Call Saul”—chose quite an intriguing book as his candidate for the vote. The Sellout by Paul Beatty is the satirical story of a young man raised in isolation as he participates in a race trial that eventually sends him to the Supreme Court.
The One Book, One New York webpage describes The Sellout as, “challenging the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.”
The final submission comes from “Shameless” star William H. Macy, who has chosen to recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, which captures the coming-of-age story of Francie Nolan, who spends her formative years in the slums of Williamsburg. Described as an American classic, Smith’s novel demonstrates a sincere focus on the connectedness of families, even as they suffer through difficult eras.
The One Book, One New York initiative is being encouraged to support the city’s publishing industry, local libraries and bookstores. And each of these books has some connection to the New York City area.
In a time when our country seems more divided than it has ever been, this program is hoping to unite one of America’s arts capitals through literature.