HB Reads invites book suggestions

This may be the year when Huntington Beach votes on what HB Reads.

The organizers of the annual program, which encourages students and others to read a book with a diversity theme, have opened up the 2014 selection for public input. Between now and July 1, any member of the public can visit hbreads.org and nominate a book that's about 300 pages long, priced at $15 or less and appropriate for ages 15 and older.

Of course, it's harder than that: Anyone submitting a title for consideration must also answer the question, "What makes this a book you cannot put down?"

And, needless to say, "What is the message of diversity?"

Since 2008, the program has chosen a book each year and set up a series of related citywide events, including a visit by the author to Huntington Beach High School. Past titles have focused on physical disability (Temple Grandin's "Emergence: Labeled Autistic"), immigration (Elva Trevino Hart's "Barefoot Heart"), genocide (the Lost Boys of Sudan memoir "They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky") and other topics.

What might the 2014 selection address? Fred Provencher, the founder and chairman of HB Reads, is curious to find out himself.

"I'm sure there are areas that we haven't covered," he said.

Once the nominations are in, HB Reads' six-member book selection committee will determine a short list of finalists to submit to the program's board, which is composed of about a dozen members. The finalists will probably be the titles that get the most votes, although Provencher said other factors, such as the book's fame or availability, may tilt the decision.

In addition to recommending a book, voters can suggest community events that could be tied to its theme. Typical offerings in the past have included children's events and film screenings.

Provencher said the board will probably select next year's book in August and announce it in October, with the program to kick off in March. The program encourages students to read each year's selection and distributes campus copies, but schools are not required to assign it.

Although this marks the first year that HB Reads has invited public feedback, it has taken suggestions in the past. Jay Asher's anti-bullying novel "Thirteen Reasons Why," which the program featured this year, came with recommendations from at least two Huntington Beach High School teachers.

Jason Ross, the school's assistant principal, said Asher's book resonated with students more than some in the past, in part because it may have already been on their radar.

"I think it was probably a popular book that many students knew before," he said.

So far, Ross said, several Huntington Beach High faculty members have already nominated books for next year. Orson Scott Card's 1985 science-fiction novel "Ender's Game" is one he's heard has been submitted.

As for Provencher, he'll probably refrain from casting a ballot of his own.

"If somebody comes up with a great book, I can definitely be in favor of it," he said. "But I don't think I'll be nominating one."

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