One City

Reading a book with friends can be good fun.

However, most people do not get to experience reading with an entire city. It can be transformative, creating a common thread of understanding and commitment to reading through a shared experience. 

For 21 years, the Pasadena Public Library-produced One City, One Story has broadened and deepened readers’ appreciation for literature, promoting tolerance and understanding of differing viewpoints. Novels are chosen to gain a deeper insight into current social events. 

Pasadena readers can dive into “Sparks Like Stars” by Nadia Hashimi, featured in March, and “L.A. Weather” by María Amparo Escandón as the summer edition selection. 

 “Sparks Like Stars” chronicles an Afghan American woman’s journey of redemption as she attempts to understand the truth behind her family’s murder during Afghanistan’s 1978 Saur Revolution.

Community programs will accompany One City, One Story. They include a conversation with Hashimi on Friday, March 24, at Pasadena Presbyterian Church, followed by a Q&A with Hashimi and Library Director Tim McDonald and a book signing. As many as 400 people are expected to attend.

Hashimi is a pediatrician-turned-bestselling novelist and former Democratic congressional candidate living in Maryland with her husband and four children. Her books, for adults and young readers, draw inspiration from her upbringing as a first-generation Afghan American and dive into themes such as conflict, poverty, forced migration, addiction, misogyny and colonialism. 

Other events include an online session on Thursday, March 9, with speaker Dr. Shinkai Hakimi, the executive director of Sahar, which is dedicated to fostering the education of Afghan girls. Featured author Hashimi is also on the board of directors.

During ArtNight on Friday, March 10, One City, One Story will host an event at the Lamanda Park Branch Library, celebrating Afghan and Latino culture in honor of both book selections with speaker Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of Afghan Women’s Mission, a nonprofit in Altadena that works in conjunction with RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) to support secular democracy and women’s rights in Afghanistan, providing educational and health programs.

Bookending Hashimi’s speaking engagement are three additional book discussion groups on Saturday, March 18, at Linda Vista Branch Library, online on Saturday, March 25, and on Monday, March 27, at the Lamanda Park Branch Library.

Funded by a grant from the Pasadena Literary Alliance, copies of “Sparks Like Stars” will be free for library members and can be picked up at any Pasadena Library branch. Pasadena Public Library will also donate extra copies to the Pasadena Unified School district for students. 

“(One City, One Story) began because we wanted a community opportunity for people to come together to read and discuss one book. Not necessarily to agree about it, but to find common ground to get the community talking together and coming to the library,” said Christine Reeder, Pasadena city librarian.

In May of each year, the selection committee, comprised of librarians and community members, chooses two novels that will appeal to a wide range of ages from high school onward. The selections are meant to spark meaningful conversations about current topics and events. In any given year, the committee might go through as many as 75 books before making their selection.

When asked about this year’s selection, Reeder noted the timeliness of women’s rights and education in Afghanistan as the Taliban continue to restrict women’s autonomy. 

The hope is that the project inspires a new generation of readers and promotes literacy starting at home. 

“If children see books in their home, then children are more interested in getting their own books, coming to the library, and they get that love for the library. So at the same time, we’re promoting the use of libraries for future generations,” Reeder said.

One City, One Story: Nadia Hashimi Presents "Sparks Like Stars"

WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 24

WHERE: Pasadena Presbyterian Church, 585 E. Colorado Boulevard, Pasadena

COST: Free admission