All Iowa Reads picks Strength in What Remains as a must-read

BY LU SHEN | JUNE 28, 2012 6:30 AM

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The story of a Burundian man who escapes from Africa and travels to the United States with nothing to his name has been chosen as the "must-read" book this year by the All Iowa Reads project.

Strength in What Remains, written by Iowa Writers' Workshop alum Tracy Kidder, is the second nonfiction work that All Iowa Reads has, in its 10th year, chosen as the "must-read for all Iowans."

The project is made possible by the Iowa Center for the Book, a program with connections to the Iowa Library Services/State Library of Iowa. Robin Martin, the book center coordinator, told The Daily Iowan that the center has a committee of eight people, primarily librarians who "read widely and seek books broadly," in order to select the must-read book each year.

"We chose Strength in What Remains from six titles," she said. "It was the unanimous choice by committee members' voting."

In order to promote the book, the Iowa City Public Library will host a discussion about the ideas presented by the story at 1 p.m. Saturday. The discussion is free and open to the public.

Martin said the discussion is a wonderful way for a library to play a key role in a community, bringing people of different ages and different backgrounds together.

"People get to know each other from reading and discussing the same book together," she said. "Some even become lifelong friends after meeting in a reading group."

The book is the first selection for the program that features characters from a country and culture outside the United States. Martin said she believes it is important for Iowans to expand their cultural knowledge beyond what they know.

"We felt that is was important for Iowans to learn about the Burundi and its people," Martin said. "The book is set amid the horror of a bloody civil war, but Kidder's ability to relate Deogratias' struggles with such hope is unique."

Martin said the committee chose Kidder's book because of its beautiful style.

"We can all relate to its universal themes when reading it," she said. "Family, the value of education, the burdens of war, prejudice, love, hope, and forgiveness."

Maeve Clark, reference and instruction coordinator at the Iowa City Public Library, said the book is a story that everyone can appreciate.

"This one is a true-life story of someone who has overcome some tremendous obstacles," she said. "And the story of what happened in this country is one that we should never forget. It's a very well-written book, and the story is very compelling."

The Public Library provides books in four formats — print, compact disk, e-audio, and e-book.

Clark said the library also provides book kits to support All Iowa Reads.

"We have two book-club kits," she said. "The book-club kits are really nice because it's 10 copies of the book and the questions all together. So if you have a book group, everybody will have a book."

Clark said the discussions give readers the potential to expand their understanding of a story.

"Often, you read, and you never have a chance to discuss it with someone," she said. "Now, you could get a group of people who you may know some of the people in it but may not know any of them. So it gives you an opportunity to explore the book and what other people think about it."

The discussion will be led by Beth Fisher, a program librarian at the Public Library, who said the book discussion will be rather informal.

"There are discussion questions available on the Iowa Center for the Book," she said. "However, we may or may not use them. It depends on how many people show up and what they liked most about the book."

Fisher said she hopes anyone interested in the book will attend.

"I hope we have a good turnout," she said. "Anyone of any age who has read the book — or is still reading the book — is invited to attend."

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