One Book, One Community.

This month marks the seventh anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall in New Orleans. Her storm surge caused levee breaches, massive flooding and widespread damage in the city and surrounding areas.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American who owned a home and business nearby, could have fled. But he stayed to protect his property.

Eight days later, he disappeared.

Author Dave Eggers chronicles his story in “Zeitoun,” released in 2009. This year, York and five other counties in southcentral Pennsylvania chose the nonfiction book as their One Book, One Community pick.

Libraries in Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Perry and York counties will promote “Zeitoun” through a series of programs in September and October that encourage the community to come together and discuss the book.

“I think the whole Katrina experience certainly varied from things we’ve done in the past,” said Carrie Reich, the library director for Martin Library at The Art Institute of York, member of the One Book, One Community selection committee and Springettsbury Township resident. “It’s something that we all remember but weren’t necessarily as close to being a part of as the book expresses.”

Members of the selection committee – about 20 of them, ranging from college professors to retired folks who just love to read – narrowed down a list of about 60 suggested titles to land on “Zeitoun.” They considered a book’s reading level, how well it lent itself to discussion and how different it was from prior years’ books, among other criteria.

“The discussable part is probably where we focused as a group,” Reich said.

But the program is “bigger than a book discussion,” said Karen Hostetter, Springettsbury Township resident and One Book, One Community coordinator for York County. Programming highlights cover the culture of New Orleans, from an Oct. 8 Cajun cooking demonstration with Dave and Sharon Prudhomme, owners of Prudhomme’s Lost Cajun Kitchen in Lancaster County, to an Oct. 4 talk by the Rev. Lela Henderson, a lifelong resident of New Orleans who evacuated when Katrina struck and created a new life for herself as the associate pastor of Bethel A.M.E. Church in Harrisburg.

“I really wanted someone to be able to talk about the culture of New Orleans,” Hostetter said. “Why didn’t people leave?”

Other programs address wetland erosion in New Orleans and its contribution to Katrina’s devastating effect; post traumatic stress disorder, which Zeitoun was diagnosed with after the hurricane; and the Zeitoun family’s Muslim faith.

“Certainly the issues of race and religion are something that a lot of people can relate to,” Reich said, adding that those factors played into the selection committee’s decision to choose “Zeitoun.”

Copies of the book are available at all 13 York County library branches, in paperback, audiobook and ebook formats. The number of copies purchased, this year around 200, varies from year to year based on donations from community sponsors, bookstores and libraries’ friends groups. Outside the library, Glatfelter sponsored the purchase of more than a dozen copies to be distributed to places like rest homes and doctors’ offices.

“What I hear from people, year to year, is ‘Thank you,'” Hostetter said. “‘I never would’ve read a book on this topic, I never would’ve cared.’ I think that’s worth it.”

Daily Record/Sunday News


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