Start of popular reading program causes a frenzy around Pakistani music, food and "Three Cups of Tea"
by: Vern Uyetake, Rose Okada & Friends play Pakistani/Northern India music during the kick-off party for the citywide reading program, Lake Oswego Reads. This year’s book selection is “Three Cups of Tea,” a non-fiction story set in Pakistan.

The second annual Lake Oswego Reads program got off to an exciting start Tuesday, when library cardholders plucked up all 800 copies of 'Three Cups of Tea' in the program's first 15 minutes.

The crowded kick-off celebration at the Lake Oswego Library lasted two and a half hours. However, the books -compliments of the Friends of the Library - and platters of Pakistani food disappeared before most participants arrived.

Residents who came to the library early to wait in line for a book were thrilled; others were disappointed to walk out empty-handed.

'I did (LO Reads) last year and it wasn't like this,' said Mary Sullivan, a Lake Oswego resident who didn't get a book. 'I actually got a close parking spot and just waltzed downstairs to get my book. The word is definitely out.'

'I value living in a place where this many people value books,' added her friend, Emily Howard. 'It speaks well for Lake Oswego, but it's a very different experience this year.'

Library officials were astonished by the party's outcome, which they say indicates this year's citywide reading program selection will be better received than 2007's 'The Shadow of the Wind.' About 100 copies of 'The Shadow of the Wind' were left over after last year's party.

'All I can say is 'Wow!'' said Cyndie Glazer, Lake Oswego Reads coordinator. 'Last year, we didn't know if people understood what it was and we kept trying to promote it. This year, it's taken off and it's a hit. We're very excited and the committee is thrilled.'

Those who did not receive a book at the party are encouraged to purchase a copy at Graham's Book and Stationery or place a hold on the book at the library.

'We have 81 copies of the book in the county,' said Bill Baars, library director. 'We're also encouraging people to do what they did last year. If they finish the book, bring it in and we'll put it in public view where people can ask for it.'

'Three Cups of Tea' was selected out of about 40 options by a steering committee comprised of local leaders and librarians.

Published in 2006, the non-fiction book is co-authored by Portland journalist David Oliver Relin and tells the story of co-author Greg Mortenson, who wandered into the most desolate areas of northern Pakistan after a failed attempt to reach the peak of K2.

Mortenson promised to return to the village where he was nursed back to health and build a school for its children. With the help of inspired adults and children who donated money, Mortensen went on to build 55 schools in a region where Americans are feared and hated. This year, the schools will educate 24,000 children.

'I was fascinated by a compelling story of an American who is trying to make a difference in the world,' Sullivan said. 'Plus, (Pakistan) is all over the TV these days and I love to learn about other cultures.'

Shawn West, a retired teacher who lives in Lake Oswego, already read 'Three Cups of Tea' but will read it again for LO Reads.

'I found it fascinating,' she said. 'In a region that's so anti-American, he found a way to get their support to give them education and somehow compromise. It does give you hope that there are ways to negotiate some understanding between opposing cultures.'

The party - which also featured live Pakistani music by Rose Okada and Friends, henna hand art by Zahra Hadid and teabag party favors - is only one small part of the month-long program.

During February, the library, school district, local businesses and organizations will offer special programs and festivities connected with 'Three Cups of Tea.' In those events, the food, music, history and customs of Pakistan will be celebrated and explored.

They range from speakers to indoor rock climbing, tea tasting and a Pakistani-themed market - and more.

A central figure in this year's program is Tasneem Rahman, a Lake Oswego resident who was born in Karachi, Pakistan, and runs a non-profit with her husband to build schools in underdeveloped countries.

Rahman, with help from friend Musaab Khan, cooked the traditional Pakistani chapati, samosas, biryani and pakora for the LO Reads party. She will also speak about her journey and her involvement in the Muslim community as part of LO Reads.

The book resonated with her experience as a Pakistani woman who values education, she said.

'What he described and where he came from clicked with me… (the portrayal of Pakistan) was very accurate,' she said. 'Yes we are poor, but our hearts are very big.'

And money donated by generous Americans goes a long way there. Building a school in Pakistan costs $5,000 to $20,000 depending on location and other factors, said her husband, Mohammad Saeed Rahman.

LO Reads will bring 'Pennies for Peace' to Lake Oswego elementary schools from Jan. 21 to Feb. 1. Students, parents and teachers are asked to donate pennies in bins to benefit Mortenson's school-building charity, the Central Asia Institute.

'There will be a lot of events around this where people can contribute,' Baars said.

Students at Lakeridge and Lake Oswego high schools, meanwhile, are reading the book as an assignment or extra credit project. Mortenson will visit Lakeridge on Feb. 6 to present slides and speak exclusively to students from both schools.

Portions of the Lake Oswego program are modeled after a similar program in Cambridge, Mass., a city that is also reading 'Three Cups of Tea,' Glazer said.

The highlight of Lake Oswego Reads will be a talk by 'Three Cups of Tea' authors Relin and Mortenson on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at Lake Oswego High School.

Glazer said she expects a sold-out crowd. Library officials will begin distributing free tickets - two per person - starting at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at the library.

'I expect they will be gone in an hour,' Glazer said. 'I say 'Line up early.''

Many people interviewed for this story are eager to read 'Three Cups of Tea' because of its timeliness and relevance to current events happening in Pakistan.

A number of factors made the book a good fit for LO Reads, Baars added.

'It's a message that resonates well with this community,' Baars said. 'It obviously speaks to current political events but it's also about giving back, two things that are really important to Lake Oswego. It's the right book at the right time.'

For more information on the LO Reads program or to get a listing of related events, call 503-675-2538 or visit

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