Seven independent bookstores in the Lansing, Mich., area are taking the idea of professional collaboration to new levels. The bookstores, led by Schuler Books & Music in Okemos, are jointly sponsoring a community reading program in Ingram County called "Independents Read." The book selected by a majority of voting patrons of the participating independent bookstores is The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian (Vintage).

"The Buffalo Soldier is the perfect book for a community dialogue," said Schuler's promotions coordinator Coryn Briggs. "It explores so many provocative themes, such as interracial parenting, fostering a child and loss and grieving. It also focuses on post—Civil War history and the Buffalo Soldiers, subjects which should stimulate some great discussions."

The program started last year, when the 13-branch Capital Area District Library in Lansing initiated a communitywide reading program with Julia Alvarez's novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents (Plume). This year, because of time constraints and other commitments, the Capital Area Public Library decided not to sponsor the event again, and Schuler's staff took up the slack. "We wanted to do something, so that there would be continuity in the community read program," Briggs told PW. "We fully understand how a community read program brings people together through reading."

Gretchen Cochran, the library's marketing director, told PW that the library staff "is thrilled that the bookstores have stepped in to do this. The independent booksellers in the area were very much a part of last year's project. We found last year that there was a lot of crossover in terms of our patrons and theirs, and that the audiences are very much the same." About 800 people participated in last year's "One Community, Many Voices" reading program.

According to Briggs, Schuler's staff decided not just to sponsor a citywide reading program, but to extend the program throughout the county, to get as many readers involved as possible. They also wanted readers to be able to participate in the program in a variety of venues. Thus, they recruited both new and used bookstores, as well as urban and rural booksellers, to participate. "In a time when independents are getting swallowed up by chains, it is important to bring independents together," Briggs said. "We all love books. We all love to read."

Collaborating in this community reading program with two Lansing-area Schuler Books & Music stores: Bestseller Books in Mason; Community Newscenter in Frandor; Cornerstone Books in Williamston; Way Station Books in downtown Lansing; and Curious Bookshop and Archives Bookstores, both in East Lansing.

The communal aspect of this reading program continued as booksellers asked their patrons to vote on the reading program selection. Ballot boxes were placed in all participating bookstores for two weeks in late October. "We looked for public input and support in what people want to read," Briggs said.

The participating booksellers will display the book and promote the community reading program in their stores throughout December. After the holidays, the stores will each host an event with a different theme tied to the book. For instance, one store will sponsor a speaker from a counseling center talking about death. Another bookstore will sponsor a program on an adult developing a mentoring relationship with a child. Yet another bookstore will sponsor a showing of the movie Buffalo Soldiers at a nearby theater.

The program will conclude with a visit by Bohjalian, who will speak at an event at a neutral location. "We are considering a high school or college auditorium in the area," Briggs told PW, "so that we can add a student group to the mix in helping us put on this final event. It's all about community and books for us."