For about the last 10 months or so, it’s been my pleasure to chair the committee that planned and delivered the first ever One Book, One Montgomery County featuring Daniel James Brown’s bestseller The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
I can’t deny that The Boys in the Boat was really the only title we discussed, and for me, it was the only choice for our first effort. I had listened to it on CD a couple of years ago after it had been recommended to me. I receive book recommendations all the time. I have no idea what led me to pick up this book about rowing. I’m not really into watching, let alone reading about, sports of any kind (though I have been known to love some of those bio-pics about sports legends, I guess). How glad I am now that I did. The themes are universally appealing for men and women of all ages. This is a story of suffering, struggle, teamwork and ultimately the success of the underdogs. What’s not to love?
Getting Mr. Brown, or Dan as he likes to be called, from Washington (the state) to Pennsylvania was going to prove trickier. I had been talking with his agency, and I knew from those conversations, that Dan didn’t like all the travel that his fame required and sometimes had to say no to requests for visits. Plus we didn’t have any money to fly him here or to pay him. As the story goes, however (since you know the ending), we were lucky in several ways. First, the Arcadia Foundation agreed to fund our program so we could arrange for Dan’s visit. Then, his agent made a bit more effort on our behalf to convince him to come, and lastly, we were able to secure two locations to host him on the one day he could be here, Tuesday, April 19. Were we the determined underdogs in this story? Hmmm….
Everyone really took to Dan. I think we naturally want to like the authors who write books that inspire or move us, but in Dan’s case, he was the real deal. He was kind, thoughtful, humble and patient. His presentation was genuine and never felt like he had given it dozens of times before (although he probably had).
Our audiences were wonderful, too. I watched a woman sitting in front of me at Dan’s Ursinus presentation with tears in her eyes while he talked about the boys. She gave a little cheer when he was introducing the video of the boys winning gold in Berlin. There were rowers from universities all over and parents of rowers getting books signed. There were adult children of former rowers now gone who connected with their parents in a new way through Dan’s book. There were relatives of persons mentioned in the book who brought photos and articles to share, including a relation of the main character, Joe Ranse. There was the guy in his 80s who said it was the best book he ever read. There was even Don Cohan who was the first Jewish person to win a medal in yachting in 1972 in Munich. Dan asked him to stand so the audience could applause.
For me, this was such a win. Even better than I could have hoped. I love the idea of the One Book program where people come together and discuss a book and its themes through lectures and book discussions and art and performance and more. In these busy times when most of the stories through which we connect with each other come in one-hour installments on television or online shows, I think a One Book is a great and refreshing change. And from where else but libraries should these book recommendations and inspiring conversations come? It appears that we made the right choice this year with The Boys in the Boat. Here’s hoping for another win next year.
Much thanks and appreciation to the members of the One Book committee who came together from all over Montgomery County. Thanks to our two college partners, Ursinus College and Montgomery County Community College. Thanks to the Arcadia Foundation for giving us the support we needed to get the program rolling. And, last, but certainly not least, thanks to Daniel James Brown and his team, without whom we would not have had such a successful first event. To echo what I heard so many times last week–Thank you, Dan, for writing this book.
Thanks to all of you for participating as well. Now that the One Book has concluded, we’d love your feedback. Please take our One Book survey here.