Program hopes to draw in male readers, for a change

Men, stop what you are doing and pick up a good book.

That is one goal of La Cañada Flintridge's One City One Book program, which this year selected Ron Carlson's acclaimed novel of the outdoors, “The Signal,” as the work to read, contemplate and celebrate in November 2012. Carlson will discuss the book in La Cañada on Sunday.

Carlson's 2009 novel, which received enthusiastic reviews, follows troubled rancher Mack and his soon-to-be ex-wife Vonnie as they take one last trip into the wilderness in western Wyoming's Wind River Range. Mack has ulterior motives for the trip, however, and the novel rushes toward a thrilling conclusion while weaving in flashbacks that detail Mack's relationship with his father — a combination of themes that One City One Book organizers hope will lure a balanced group of readers.

“We wanted a book that would appeal to men, as well as women,” said Kathleen Kenna, the campaign's publicity chair. “Our event is usually 99% women, and we really wanted to get the men involved.”

Carlson said he didn't set out to draw in male readers, but his own experiences growing up in Utah led him to develop tales of adventure.

“There's men and there's work and there's fishing and the outdoors,” he said. “I'm also using nature and work and all the trials they have, to [write about] what makes a man tick.”

As it has since launching the program in 2004, the One City One Book committee is staging an author appearance in conjunction with the La Cañada public library.

On Sunday, Carlson will drive up from Orange County, where he is co-director of UC Irvine's creative writing program, for a question-and-answer session facilitated by local author Mark Salzman at the La Cañada Unified School District board chambers, on Foothill Boulevard at Cornishon Avenue.

Librarian Mark Totten, who is a member of the committee that chose the book and coordinated the program, said Carlson's ability to recreate the natural world on the page is what drew him to “The Signal.”

“I really thought his descriptive elements were outstanding, they helped me really visualize what was going on,” he said.

Totten said the committee expects about 90 attendees at Sunday's discussion.

The city underwrites the event with a $1,500 grant that covers advertising, a sound system, maintaining a One City One Book website and offering a transportation stipend to the author.

Kenna said that the La Cañada library had sold out of the copies of “The Signal” it purchased especially for One City One Book. Kenna said that Carlson, being a teacher, would lead a strong discussion.

“He's a really good speaker,” she said. “He won't need any prompts, he won't be reluctant to open up.”

Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse manager Sandy Willardson said the book is a hit at her store, as well. “We keep reordering because the book keeps going out the door,” she said.

Carlson, whose previous novel, “Five Skies,” had been chosen for the One Book Rhode Island program in 2009, said he enjoyed getting out of his office and answering readers' questions.

“I love to have the discussions be an investigation, so I'm looking for a lot of questions,” he said. “In these days where everybody has their gizmos, and everybody's diverted by Twitter and so on, it's tremendous to continue to meet readers who appreciate a book.”

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