I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.

Recognize it?

If not, the 32 libraries in San Mateo County hope you will by the fall.

It's the first sentence in Khaled Hosseini's book, "The Kite Runner," which will become the center of the libraries' first annual One Book, One Community program to give county residents a common reading experience. The book will be promoted in libraries, placed on summer reading lists, dissected in discussion groups, and spawn a visit by the author and even a knitting endeavor.

"It emphasizes literacy, it emphasizes community values, it emphasizes widespread participation," said Kathleen Beasley, a coordinator for the program and a public services librarian for the county's Peninsula Library System.

"The Kite Runner," which spent three years on the New York Times Best Seller list, is narrated by Amir, who grows up in Afghanistan, emigrates to Fremont with his father, and returns some 30 years later to his war-torn homeland to rescue the son of his childhood friend after the boy's parents are killed by the Taliban. In the process, Amir experiences betrayal and redemption.

The program was initiated in honor of the county's sesquicentennial, and the choice of "TheKite Runner" was no accident.

Beasley said the libraries wanted something that would appeal to both sexes and all ages. But that it would resonate with the life experiences of many county residents was equally important.


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"We wanted something that would deal with immigration, with change, with diversity," Beasley said. "We decided in the end our No. 1 choice was 'Kite Runner' because he touched on all these issues."

He, meaning Hosseini, will appear on Oct. 19 at the San Mateo Performing Arts Center for the program's culmination. In the midst of his second book, three years ago Hosseini could barely garner an audience of 30 for a reading at the Pacifica Library, Beasley recalled.

Hosseini will be interviewed by Barbara Petzen, the outreach coordinator for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Petzen will spend a week in the county offering lectures about women in Islam — her specialty.

She will also visit sixth- and seventh-graders at Woodside Elementary School, who will participate in the program by reading Deborah Ellis' "Breadwinner" and "Parvana's Journey," which chronicle a 12-year-old girl's journey through Afghanistan as she disguises herself as a boy to search for her family.

High schoolers will get in on the program as the book is added to summer reading lists in the San Mateo Union High School District and other high schools in the county.

San Mateo High School is making it the only summer reading book required of some 300 students entering their sophomore year in the college preparatory track. The students will then study the book in their fall English classes.

Nate Johnson, the chair of San Mateo's English department, said reading a book with the community's weight behind it might encourage more students to complete their summer reading assignment.

"It linked students into the local libraries," Johnson said. "We said that this is something the community is reading, and this is something you can get in your library."

With the library's help, San Mateo sent 100 students home for the summer with copies of "The Kite Runner" through an informal check-out program.

Book stores will also be making it easy for anyone to get their hands on a copy of the book; Kepler's in Menlo Park will offer a 10 percent discount.

Barnes & Noble locations in San Mateo, Redwood City, San Bruno and Colma will give as much as 25 percent of the proceeds from the sale of "The Kite Runner" throughout the month of June back to the libraries. Customers must mention that they are making the purchase for the program.

Books Inc., with locations in Burlingame and at Stanford Shopping Center, will donate proceeds similarly for purchases during the month of September.

The county library system has also ordered 300 extra copies of the book to split between its 12 locations. 

Begun at the Washington Center for the Book at the Seattle Public Library in 1998, One Book, One Community programs have spread through the U.S. Santa Clara County began its program, Silicon Valley Reads, in 2003, and San Francisco followed suit last year.

To engage the community beyond reading itself, libraries here will offer discussion groups, films, lectures, and Afghan cultural programs open to all.

And for those wanting more hands-on involvement, the libraries' knitting groups will be partnering with San Francisco-based afghans for Afghans to knit wool mittens, socks, sweaters, hats, vests and blankets for people in Afghanistan, who endure harsh winters.

"It gives people an opportunity to do something themselves if they're moved by the book," said Ann Rubin, afghans for Afghans' founder and manager.

Though nearly five years since the war began there, Rubin said there is still a need for relief. The group, with the help of the American Friends Service Committee, has already sent some 38,000 knitted items.

Knitting groups at the Brisbane, South San Francisco and San Mateo city libraries will be taking on the task, but anyone can participate by following guidelines on http://www.afghansforafghans.org and dropping items off at any library.

On June 29 at 7 p.m., the South San Francisco library will offer a knitting class for all to get started on the project.

Knitting and building community aside, fundamentally, the program encourages people to pick up a book this summer, Beasley, the program coordinator, said.

"On the Peninsula, we're so busy and hurried, adults often times don't have time to read a novel," Beasley said. "Adults often have a difficult time fitting reading into their lives, and I think this promotes it."

Staff writer Rebekah Gordon can be reached at (650) 348-4331 or rgordon@sanmateocountytimes.com.