Chicago City officials from the mayor on down are hoping Chicagoans in coffee shops, on park benches and on buses and trains are engrossed in the novel "To Kill A Mockingbird."
Harper Lee's powerful novel about racism and courage is the first book chosen by the Chicago Public Library for its annual One Book, One Chicago program. For seven weeks, the library is trying to get as many Chicagoans as possible to read and talk about the same book.
Library officials say the novel is ideal for the program. It's one of the most popular American novels ever, still selling nearly a million paperback copies a year, four decades after it won the Pulitzer Prize.
"We're hoping with this book to grab people's attention," said Mary Dempsey, the city's library commissioner. "We hope it will encourage not just people who read books but those who don't to pick up this book."
In an effort to get Chicagoans to talk about the book, library officials and others have organized a public re-enactment of the novel's dramatic trial, a screening of the Academy Award-winning film and discussion groups at library branches and coffee shops, and on Internet chat rooms.
Some say discussing a book like "To Kill a Mockingbird" may be an ideal way to confront current issues of race.
"In some ways it's easier to talk about different issues around a work of literature," said Chris Higashi, one of the founders of a program in Seattle that pioneered the idea of the citywide book group. Other such programs have been held in cities from Rochester, N.Y., to Boise, Idaho.
The book focuses on white lawyer Atticus Finch's defense of a black man falsely accused of rape. But the story also says a lot about families, Kennedy says.
"To me it's a primer for parents," she said. "If there were more fathers like Atticus, treating their kids as people, we'd be better off."