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RF Reads decides that four picks are needed to cover the 1960's spectrum

Librarians Nancy Miller and Monica LaVold stand at the reference desk before the selections offered for the upcoming 2014 River Falls Reads. (River Falls Journal photo by Phil Pfuehler)

Public Library Director Nancy Miller calls the 1960s a “phenomenal era,” and a “pretty stunning decade of changes following the Eisenhower 1950s.”

Giving just a partial summary, Miller said, “You had the Vietnam War brought to your living room on TV, the British pop music invasion, the pill, feminism, the space race and American astronauts landing on the moon, hippies, communes, the drug culture, voting and civil rights, new fashions and long hair, and political assassinations that rubbed off some of the innocence of this country.”

That being said, how do you pick a book to best captures the spirit and diversity of the ’60s.

The answer: You probably don’t.

So instead the River Falls Reads committee selected four books for the community to peruse during the annual book-reading period in 2014 that runs from Sunday, Feb. 2, to March 9.

The four are two works of fiction and two of nonfiction. They cover four key areas from the 1960s:

 “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Trip,” by Tom Wolfe (pop culture).

"The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien (war and peace).

“The Help,” by Kathryn Stockett (politics and civil rights).

"The Astronaut Wives Club,” by Lily Koppel (social change).

Extra copies of the two of the four books – “The Things They Carried” and “The Astronaut Wives Club” – will be available to check out at the library later this week. The other two titles will be available later in the month.

River Falls Reads will also offer book copies for sale at discounted prices in the coming weeks.

A series of related events and activities, including book discussions, all with a 1960s theme, is scheduled on dates in February and early March.

Annual community book reading is now an established national trend. Locally, River Falls Reads began in 2003.

Miller, a founder of River Falls Reads, is a big backer of the idea.

“That’s because I’m a proponent of lifelong learning,” she said. “I always want to see more people reading the books or participating in the programs.

“But I’m passionate about doing this, about connecting people in our town through books -- giving them common interests to talk about through reading.”

Generally for River Falls Reads, only one title is selected each year. Other book titles, however, are recommended for supplementary reading on related themes.

River Falls Reads selections the past 10 years were: “My Antonia,” by Willa Cather; “Undaunted Courage,” by Stephen Ambrose; “Standing in the Rainbow,” by Fannie Flagg; “The Grapes of Wrath,” by John Steinbeck; Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America,” by John M. Barry; “Three Cups of Tea,” by Greg Mortenson; “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” by Mark Twain; “Grand Opening,” by Jon Hassler; and “The Killer Angels,” by Michael Shaara.

River Falls Reads committee members usually try to pick books with compelling, universal themes -- Civil War, pioneering, exploration, small-town life, the Depression and homelessness.

Miller said interest in selected books and the related programs have varied over the years.

Sometimes a book like “Three Cups of Tea” -- about one man’s mission to finance and build schools that focus on girls education in the Himalayas of Pakistan -- is checked out or bought by hundreds but related events are poorly attended.

The exception for that book and its events was when former Westside Elementary School Principle Jerene Mortenson -- author Greg Mortenson’s mother -- came for a showing of photos and slides about schools being built there by her son.

Miller says its events like these that set off River Falls Reads from other community reads, especially those in smaller communities.

“With the amount of programming we do, we’re a little unique here,” she said. “I’m nuts about saying let’s do this, try that, and hoping to come up with a variety of events to complement our book,” she said. “Other places might end up with a speaker or the book’s author appearing as their one big event.”

Here’s a list of River Falls Reads coming attractions at the public library.

Many events and times remain tentative or incomplete. A flier with the schedule will soon be distributed. Further information can be found at the library’s Facebook site and its website at

1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 2:  Hootenanny and sing-along of 1960s-era songs.

10:30 a.m. Monday, Feb. 17, (President’s Day, no school): Children’s event featuring crafts. games and activities that kids played in the ’60s.

7 p.m. Tuesday, March 4: Overview of the Vietnam War by Dr. Kurt Leichtle, UW-River Falls history professor.

(Date to be announced): Ken Olson, UWRF English senior lecturer, will speak about Kent State where he attended college in the ’60s – including the tragic shootings of unarmed students there in 1970 and political activism on campuses during that time. Speaking with Olson will be Dr. David Furniss, UWRF English professor, who attended Yale in the 1960s.

7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20: Jim Lenfestey, past poet laureate of Wisconsin, speaking on the birth of the environmental movement in the 1960s leading to the creation of Earth Day 1970.

(Date to be announced):  Fashion trends of the 1960s, facilitated by Robin Murray, UWRF professor in Communication Studies and Theatre Arts.

7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 13: Women’s rights, with a Dr. Michelle Parkinson, UWRF English Department professor and director of gender studies, as speaker on this topic.

Monday night film series starting at 7 p.m. For this one, please vote on the 1960s movies you want shown. There will be a list and a ballot at the library this month.

Display of ’60s memorabilia in the lower level glass cases.

Book discussions: 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at the library, for “The Things they Carried;” noon Saturday, Feb. 22 and 6:30 p.m. Thursday, both at Junior’s Bar and Restaurant (tentatively) for “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test;” noon Monday, Feb. 24, at St. Croix Lanes for “The Astronaut Wives Club;” and, to be announced later, for “The Help.

Middle and high school book groups have both selected books for February that take place in 1960s and focus on cultural changes and the Vietnam War.

The high school’s book is “Dead End in Norvelt” by Jack Gantos. The middle school’s is “Kaleidoscope Eyes” by Jen Bryant.

Those book discussions will be at the library at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, for the middle school, and 4 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, for the high school. Book copies are available at the Children’s Desk.

Miller is also hoping to find a speaker to talk about what was happening in River Falls in the 1960s. She would also like to find a speaker for the U.S. space program.

Whatever your choice -- reading the book, attending a talk, joining in a discussion, watching a movie, or a combination of all -- Miller said the experience should be enlightening.

“Join in, be part of the fun and excitement,” she said. “Come relive your youth or, come learn what your parents were up to back then.”

<B>Editor’s note: Core members of the River Falls Reads committee are: Ruth Wood, Nancy Miller, Jean Ritzinger, Heather Johnson, Katie Chaffee, Monica LaVold, Mary Greatens, Michael Norman, Kurt Leichtle, and Thomas R. Smith.<B>