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Brookline Reads Kickoff: Tom Rachman, author of "The Imperfectionists"

Last night, in my role as a Trustee of the Public Library of Brookline, I attended the kickoff event of this year's Brookline Reads. Every year, the library chooses a book for a town-wide read, and this year, that book is The Imperfectionists. The theme of Brookline Reads this year is the question of where and from whom does information originate? "In this age of the 24/7 news cycle, what are the sources and what are the consequences? The challenges? The influences? How do we...should we...sort fact from fiction?"

The Imperfectionists is a perfect novel for this theme. The book is about the various people whose lives revolve around an English-language newspaper published out of Italy, as the rise of Internet news leads to hard times for the paper. Each chapter of the novel focuses on a different person. Throughout, the novel also presents the story of the founder of the paper, making the end of the story that much more poignant. The reader learns a lot about the human foibles behind those who decide what is, and what isn't, news.


Michael A. Burstein, Tom Rachman Michael A. Burstein, Tom Rachman
Photo © C. Flaherty. All rights reserved. Permission to reproduce is explicitly denied



For our kickoff event, Random House sent the Tom Rachman himself to speak, as he's currently on tour in the United States. I had a few good conversations with Rachman (or, as I came to think of him, Tom). I told him how much his book had resonated with me, as my father had been a newspaperman all his life. (He started with a toy printing press when he was a kid.) We talked a little bit about writing and the business of writing, and I let him know that his book had actually been recommended to me by professional editors and writers in the science fiction and comic book world, which pleased him. (He speculated on why his novel might appeal to some genre readers; I suggested it was due to the structure of the book.)

Tom is a very nice guy; he reminded me a little bit of Neil Gaiman, who is a very successful author and yet will chat with every fan on an autograph line at a convention, even if it means missing lunch and scheduling another signing session at a later time. (I was also reminded a bit of my college friend Lev Grossman, in that Tom is both a journalist and a novelist, although at this point Tom is mostly out of journalism while Lev still writes for Time Magazine.)

During his talk, Tom discussed the problems newspapers are having today, and his comments were insightful and incisive. What he had to say was familiar, but he put it in a broader context, noting that even as newspapers were putting their content online for free they knew that this was a problem, but no one was really sure what else to do. He feels that newspapers are dying, which bothers me, but my disagreement lies more in my own hopes than in rationality. He does agree that the Internet does have some major news benefits for the world, including our ability to read and learn about local stories that we might not have discovered before; but the lack of funding for newspapers is going to continue to erode the coverage that the world needs.

All of us who have supported Brookline Reads were delighted by the turnout. At least 140 people showed up, an incredible number when you consider not only the cold weather but the fact that thriller writer Brad Meltzer was also appearing that night at Brookline Booksmith. (Ironically,the owner of Brookline Booksmith actually came to our event to sell copies of "The Imperfectionists.") Tom signed many books after his talk, and in the end kicked off what I think will end up being the best Brookline Reads of them all. Major kudos to my fellow Trustee, Roberta Winitzer, who chairs the committee, and all who work on it.

Comments

I find programs such as "Brooline Reads" to be, well, creepy. Chicago uses the slogan "One Book One Chicago," which my brain immediately translated to "Ein Book! Ein City! Ein Mayor!" complete with sinister Gestapo accent.

The idea of city government recommending that all citizens read a particular book — regardless of its political content, and I guarantee that there's some there in just about any book — disturbs me.

I might read this book on your recommendation. But that's a separate issue.
I enjoyed the book a lot; I'm not sure it'll be to your taste. I'd suggest you check out some reviews first.

The way I see it, a program like Brookline Reads does much more to promote literacy, reading, and using the library than anything overtly political. But I can see how one might feel that way, depending on the book being chosen. (I think it was librarian Nancy Pearl who started the trend of towns and cities promoting events around a single book each year.)
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