American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) is asking booksellers to help bring Americans together to discuss the issues that deeply divide us. ABFE’s Open Discussion Project will provide resources to enable booksellers to engage people from across the political spectrum in conversation.
The goal of the Open Discussion Project is to move beyond the heated emotion and inflated rhetoric of political campaigns and to think hard about our problems. “We have spent much of the last year talking at each other. We want to create opportunities for people to express and respond to differing views in the welcoming environment of a bookstore,” said ABFE Director Chris Finan.
As a first step, ABFE is asking booksellers to help create reading lists on several issues — race, immigration, the problems faced by the LGBTQ community, and climate change. The lists will be limited to 25 titles of proven editorial excellence and will include books that represent the diversity of opinion on their subjects. Booksellers who are interested in volunteering to help curate the lists are asked to e-mail Finan.
Bookstores have always played an important role in community life. Recently, several bookstores have encouraged debate on issues of race and diversity. Left Bank Books in St. Louis created a book group, #FergusonReads, in response to the shooting of Michael Brown, Jr., in nearby Ferguson. Two North Carolina bookstores, Quail Ridge Books and Music in Raleigh and the Regulator Bookshop in Durham, sponsored moderated discussions on issues related to race and diversity that drew large audiences.
The Open Discussion Project will develop resources for bookstores that can be used in a variety of ways. The reading lists can be used as handouts for customers who desire suggestions for further reading. They can also be helpful for booksellers who want to host discussions in their stores.
Drawing on the experiences of the stores that are already encouraging their customers with diverse opinions to express themselves, ABFE will provide suggestions for creating book groups and for sponsoring community forums. These will include recommendations for ensuring that even impassioned debates remain civil.
Questions about the Open Discussion Project should be directed to Finan.