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Everybody's reading it ...

Jackson County Reads program kicks off with The River Why

A serialization of David James Duncan's novel The River Why begins today in this section of the newspaper. Segments will appear here for five consecutive Sundays as part of a program called Jackson County Reads.

The goal is to encourage members of a community to read the same book and talk about it, mirroring similar reading programs taking place around the nation.

Planning began last fall and now includes special events at all 15 county library branches as well as area high schools and Southern Oregon University. It's all designed to culminate April 18-20 when Duncan plans to visit Southern Oregon for talks at libraries in Medford and Ashland and at SOU.

It really is getting very exciting, says the Ashland library's Amy Blossom, one of the organizers.

Interest seems to be running high. The library's 130 copies of the book are all out on loan, Blossom says. There's a waiting list, and the library has ordered more copies.

— The book has been the top-selling title at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Medford for the past two weeks.

It's been fabulous, says Barnes & Noble's Bruce Budmayr. It got to the point the publisher had to make more.

We can't get enough, says John Mullowney at Bloomsbury Books in Ashland. They're just flying out of here. We have more on order, but it's been hard to get.

Copies also have been sent to the Jackson County Jail and the Dunn House women's shelter, paid for by donors.

Some 1,500 copies of a reader's guide to the book have been distributed to library branches. The glossy, 12-page guide explains the program and offers reviews of the book, discussion questions and tips on running book discussions.

Special bookmarks are being made and are expected in libraries by next week.

A 40-foot inflatable tent that looks like a giant salmon will be installed at the Medford library on April 19 for Duncan's visit.

We have all kinds of activities at the different branches, Blossom says.

The River Why is a coming-of-age story about Augustine Gus the Fish Orviston, who aspires to zero hours of non-angling conversation and 4,000 fishing hours a year.

Duncan was born in Portland in 1952 and now lives on a Montana trout stream with his family. He visited Southern Oregon in 1997 to give a talk at the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater in Medford.

I think it gets the community together on one project, says Amber Beecher, the manager of Dear Reader.com, which runs online book clubs for libraries and is providing River Why installments to the .

It gets you more involved, more excited to read a book you might not normally read. You get the author speaking, you get to go to the library, it's fun.

Events are sponsored by Jackson County Library Services and paid for through donations and the library foundation. No public money is being used.

For a complete activities and events calendar, visit on the Web.

Different areas come up with different names for the program and choose different books. Portland bibliophiles this year called their program Everybody Reads and chose a novel about Afghanistan, The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. In Bend, where the program is dubbed, A Novel Idea ' Read Together, people are reading Diana Abu-Jaber's Crescent. In 2004 they read The River Why.

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail Everybody's reading it ... "bvarble@mailtribune.com.

Chapter one: Gus the fishIt is a doubt if my body is flesh or fish, he sang in his grief; hapless the woman who loves me ...' Charles Williams, Taliessin Through Logres

Having harbored two sons in the waters of her womb, my mother considers herself something of an authority on human foetuses. The normal foetus, she says, is no swimmer; it is not fish-, seal-, eel-, or even turtlelike: it is an awkward alien in the liquid environment ' a groping land creature confused by its immersion and anxious to escape. My brother, she says, was such a foetus. I was not. My swimming style was no humanoid butterfly-, crawl-, back- or breaststroking: mine were the sure, swift dartings of a deformed but hefty trout at home with the water, finning and hovering in its warm black pool.Having harbored no one anywhere in his body and lacking a womb, my father knows almost nothing about human foetuses. This did not stop him from penning and publishing a grotesque article about a human birth. My father is a writer secondarily and a famous flyfisherman primarily, and his stories, books and lectures on the latter art ' not to mention his ruddy face and dumpy, wader-swathed figure ' are renowned throughout the flyfishing world.One of his favorite articles was published in a 1954 Field and Streamunder the title Gus the Fish. Written in a painfully contrived anduncharacteristic Doc-And-Me-Went-Fishin' style, Gus the Fish treats of theangling adventure of a certain obstetrician who finally succeeded in hookingand landing a chubby eight-pounder who had eluded all anglers for overnine months despite being trapped in a small pool in a river only fivefeet, five inches long; then in the concluding paragraph my father spills the beans all over his little allegory with the forgettable intimation that Ol' Gus is not some wily brown trout lurking in the waters of a Letort,Beaverkill or Firehole. Oh no. Ol' Gus is nothing less than my new littlelunker son, my first-born fish and flyfisherman to be!Note: Gus the Fish continues on March 19.Copyright — 1983 by David James Duncan. Published by Sierra Club Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.