Novel Idea Memories

Memories: Todd Dunkelberg
Director, Deschutes Public Library

Twenty years ago A Novel Idea grew from a simple idea. What if everyone in the County read the same book? We could turn to strangers in line at the grocery store or in a café and start discussing a shared experience. Especially with so many new people moving into our communities, wouldn’t this be a great way to get to know each other? While I pictured that as a nice way to have a common topic of discussion, I never dreamed of the amazing and inspiring conversations that would ensue. Together we have learned, empathized, debated, cried, laughed, and grown.

The vision of Deschutes Public Library is for people to learn, thrive, and connect to one another and the world. We have traveled the world through stories, we have connected with people across the globe and we have done it all together. Thank you for sharing this amazing journey with us!

Memories: Stacey Donohue
English Professor, Central Oregon Community College

Twenty years ago, I gave a few presentations in town about the power of Oprah’s Book Club, a subject I was deeply engaged with. During one of my talks in Central Oregon, one audience member happened to be the mother of Chantal Strobel, who was instrumental it starting A Novel Idea in Deschutes County.

For the very first A Novel Idea book, before there was an Advisory Committee, library staff, led by Chantal, chose The River Why by David James Duncan, which was celebrating it’s 20th anniversary. Chantal wanted my feedback on the selection and the programs the team was planning (including a visit with students at COCC). By the next year, I was invited to participate on the newly formed Novel Idea Advisory Committee.

Over the last 20 years, the Advisory Committee has evolved, with several long-time members moving out, and new members coming on. I fondly remember some wonderful debates about the novels we were reading (the brutal rape in The Kite Runner! The sexism in Rocketmen! Too many New York City novels!). Liz Goodrich’s leadership over the last few years has led to many necessary changes, including the Community Reading Group, which now recommends the initial list of books before the Advisory Group narrows that list down to the three we recommend to Todd Dunkelberg, the Library Director. And, because some years there are just too many good novels to choose from or Advisory Committee members disagree, Liz moved us to a consensus decision-making model, which involved ranked voting and a detailed chart mapping the top picks to the selection criteria. Criteria includes an equity lens that is applied to the top choices to make sure that we do not recommend too many novels with the same type of characters and setting. ...

I am incredibly honored to continue to serve on the Community Reading Group and the Advisory Committee, though soon I’ll be stepping down to let in some fresh perspectives. Twenty years of reading dozens of novels every summer has been a blast, though, and I suspect I’ll still be sending in my recommendations as a regular community member.

My favorite Novel Idea books? I’ll limit myself to these three, but I loved most of them!

  • Gonzalez and Daughter Trucking Company, because María Amparo Escandón was such a pleasure as a speaker.
  • The World to Come, by Dara Horn, where the theft of a Marc Chagall painting leads to an exploration of a Russian Jewish family’s fascinating
  • Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel that spans several generations of the families of two sisters, one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver.
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Memories: Ann Malkin
President, Deschutes Public Library Foundation

Sometimes a tiny spark can flare into a beacon. In fact, it happened here! In 2002, a small idea—that everyone in Deschutes County would read and discuss the same book—was pitched as a way to build community, promote lifelong learning and the love of literature, and bring outstanding authors to our region. As a Library Foundation board member then, I was excited about the possibilities, but had no idea this small idea would blaze into the beloved community program it is today, enjoyed by more than 13,000 people last year.

Through the dozens of free Novel Idea programs held each year, we’ve traveled the world (Afghanistan, New Guinea, Ireland, Oregon trout streams, and the Deep South); learned how to survive an apocalypse; crafted Mexican retablo altars; cooked biscuits in Dutch ovens; listened to the pounding beat of Japanese taiko drumming; peeked into the sleeper cab of a long-haul truck; and laughed and learned together. Some memories are poignant (Khaled Hosseini describing the devastation of his beloved homeland in Afghanistan); some uproarious (María Amparo Escandón leaning on the air horn of a chromed-up semi in front of the Tower Theatre); and many unforgettable (Myrlie Evers-Williams reflecting on Civil Rights advances and remaining challenges). Through the years, we’ve learned about literature, ideas, issues, and places but, just as importantly, we’ve learned about ourselves and our neighbors through shared experiences and enriching discussions. A Novel Idea enters its 20th year burning brightly.

Memories: Chantal Strobel
Manager, Communications & Development, Deschutes Public Library

In early 2001, we began the vision to create a community read program to bring residents from all corners of Deschutes County together through reading, discussing, listening, and sharing experiences through one book. The library was not able to finance the project, so we raised the financing and support from local sponsors and regional grantors to make it happen. And, make it happen we did!

We launched the “A Novel Idea…Read Together” community read program in 2003 due to the incredible support of local sponsors who have supported us for more than a decade, such as the Echo Foundation, the Roundhouse Foundation, the E.H. & M.E. Bowerman Advised Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation, Bend Research/Lonza, the Starview Foundation, the Pacific Power Foundation, and thousands of individual donors along the way.

We created life-long friendships with authors whose generosity set the stage for our success. The authors we worked with have graced us with their knowledge and kindness, always willing to do a little extra to make the program more special for our participants. Things felt simpler when we first started where a phone call to David James Duncan and Khaled Hosseini sealed the deal. Today, we work with publishing houses and agents to solidify author visits and details.

We partnered with more than 400 local, regional, and statewide organizations and individuals to bring our programs to life with enriching presentations, cooking demonstrations, dance circles, fly fishing lessons, civil discourse, history tutorials, and so much more. Local bookstore owners partnered with us to select and sell the books. ...

We read more than 600 books and had the amazing assistance of community readers over the years. Our community readers and selection committee members spent hundreds of hours to carefully pore over books to find just the right book at just the right time for our County residents to explore together.

We expanded our staff and are very lucky to have an incredible team working behind-the-scenes to make A Novel Idea what we feel is the best community read project in the Northwest. Liz Goodrich brings two decades of experience and passion to the project and her leadership has made all the difference. Paige Ferro and Laurel Westendorf have been creating programs that inspire, enrich, and delight our communities and work tirelessly behind-the-scenes to make sure everything runs smoothly. Our communications team led by the extraordinary Tina Davis includes Ann Hettinger, Dana O’Connell, and Michael Rivera, and they produce the materials such as the Reader’s Guide, videos, bookmarks, magnets, and other promotions for A Novel Idea. Suzy Olsen and our Foundation Board members make sure we continue to have funding for this project through grants, sponsors, and donors. And, volunteers supported our efforts along the way.

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Page Last Modified Wednesday, March 8, 2023