One book for the whole world

Last year Edinburgh residents tackled Arthur Conan Doyle’s dinosaur adventure, The Lost World, last month Dubliners were taking a collective look at Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and readers in the English seaside town of Brighton are engrossed in Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel From Russia with Love. Now a new project is hoping to take the “one book, one city” initiative a step further and get the whole world reading the same novel.

The brainchild of Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing and a contributing editor at Wired magazine, the One Book, One Twitter scheme launched last week. Readers have been voting for the book that they’ll be tackling for the next month, with Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel, American Gods, eventually triumphing over titles including Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy.

“The aim with One Book, One Twitter is — like the one city, one book programme which inspired it — to get a zillion people all reading and talking about a single book. It is not, for instance, an attempt to gather a more selective crew of book lovers to read a series of books and meet at established times to discuss,” said Howe at

“Usually such ‘Big Read’ programmes are organised around geography. Seattle started in 1998 when zillions of Seattleites all read Russell Banks’s book, Sweet Hereafter. Chicago followed with To Kill a Mockingbird a few years later. This Big Read is organised around Twitter, and says to hell with physical limitations.”

Gaiman, whose novel follows the story of ex-convict Shadow, released from prison and embarking on a bizarre journey across the United States with the mysterious Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a former god, said he thought One Book, One Twitter was “a great idea — a sort of worldwide book club”.

But he was slightly concerned about the choice of American Gods, describing himself as “half-pleased and half-not”, because it’s “such a divisive book”. “Some people love it, some sort of like it and some people hate it … It’s not a book I’d hand out to everyone, because the people who don’t know anything about what I’ve written and who hate it — who might have loved Stardust, or Neverwhere, or The Graveyard Book, or Sandman — probably won’t go and look any further,” the author said on his blog.

“But it’s happened. I’m kind of thrilled that I get to help kick off something this new and I’m going to do all I can to help, which, today, will consist of making sure I let all the publishers around the world who have American Gods in print know about this and, over the next few months, sending helpful or apologetic tweets to people who are stuck, offended or very, very confused.”

On Twitter at @1B1T2010 — with more than 1500 followers days after launching — and hashtag #1b1t, the One Book, One Twitter project is well under way. —

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Alison Flood
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