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"A Year of Reading Sharon" is born

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Celebrating the life of a reader, Sharon Kurns, with a virtual book club and pay-it-forward promise. Colleagues, friends, and family create a bridge of empathy and shared purpose, not only for those who knew and loved her, but for so many others who would hear the story and want to join in the celebration by coming together to read.

"A Year of Reading Sharon" is born

Sharon Kurns--Spreading the love of reading

Book clubs hold a special place in American culture. They build community. They offer opportunity for intelligent conversation and lead to deeper understanding of an author's work.  Sixty-two libraries have registered their discussion groups with the Iowa Center for the Book; many more library groups are out there, and private book clubs abound throughout the state. Through the magic of reading and sharing, members form life-long friendships. What follows is a story of how friends and a book club helped find a way to celebrate a beloved member’s passion for books and reading.

On December 23, 2012, Sharon Kurns died at the age of 53 from kidney cancer. It had been diagnosed just two short months before. Sharon was a teacher and educator. But more importantly, she was a mother, wife, sister, colleague and friend to many.

Sarah Brown-Wessling, a Johnston High School English teacher and 2010 National Teacher of the Year knew Sharon through her children, Anna and Daniel, both of whom had been students of hers.  Chris Mudge lived across the street from Sharon, her husband Dave and their two kids.  The youngest, Anna, was a friend of Mudge’s oldest son, and the two of them roamed the neighborhood together in their younger years. Another friend, Paige Fielder, was a member of Sharon’s book club.

“All of us, along with so many others, felt helpless and inadequate in our efforts to reach out and support the Kurns family in the days and months after Sharon’s passing,” said Wessling.  Several months later, she received a letter in the mail from Sharon’s book club.  It contained a $200 gift certificate to a local bookstore with the request that the money be used to spread Sharon’s love of reading.

Inspiration came when Wessling stumbled upon the book, My Ideal Bookshelf. “It dawned on me that we could create Sharon’s 'ideal bookshelf' and share it with as many people as possible by inviting them to join a virtual book group: A Year of Reading Sharon,” she said. Each month the virtual club would read a different book from Sharon’s bookshelf and pay the reading experience forward in a variety of ways.

Mudge and Wessling note their hope is simple, “Celebrate what it means to be a reader by spreading a passion for words as far as possible. We hope others will join us, whether they knew Sharon or not.” Readers are invited to:

  • Like the Facebook page “A Year of Reading Sharon” or Twitter feed “Reading Sharon” @yearofsharon
  • Join the GoodReads discussion group “A Year of Reading Sharon” each month
  • Pay it Forward by sharing copies of Sharon’s books with friends or donating copies to libraries or schools.
  • Simply share their passion for reading

Sharon's Bookshelf

  • January: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • February: Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak AND Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
  • March: My Sister's Keeper, Jodi Piccoult
  • April: Mindset, Carol Dweck
  • May: Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  • June: East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  • July: Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
  • August: Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  • September: The Simple Truths of Service, Kenneth Blanchard and Barbara Glanz
  • October: The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
  • November: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Jonathan Safran Foer
  • December: Isaac's Storm, Erik Larson

For more information about “A Year of Reading Sharon,” contact Chris Mudge, Executive Director Iowa Newspaper Association

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