WALNUT CREEK -- As the yearlong celebration of the city's centennial rolls on, organizers of Walnut Creek Reads decided the best way to celebrate the city's birth is for this year's book selection to pay homage to Walnut Creek's ranching and farming roots.

Announced June 2, the communitywide book club "One City, One Book: Walnut Creek Reads" selection for 2014 is John Steinbeck's "The Pastures of Heaven." First published in 1932, "The Pastures of Heaven" is a collection of 12 interconnected short stories about a small, beautiful agrarian valley -- similar to Walnut Creek in the early 1900s -- located near Salinas and Monterey.

"We were looking for a book that would tie in with the centennial," said Terry Goss, one of the organizers of the program. "The area in the book is very much similar to how Walnut Creek was back then, very rural and lots of farms. It's a good fit for this centennial year."

A good fit because while the city today may be known for its downtown shopping, its roots are in people like Hiram Penniman, who came to the Ygnacio Valley in 1852 and established the Shadelands Ranch, a fruit farm, on 370 acres. And in founders like Hubert Howe Bancroft, who established one of the most successful fruit farms in the state in the Ygnacio Valley in 1885. The Ruth Bancroft Garden still sits on some of that land.

This all ties in to "The Pastures of Heaven," written in classic Steinbeck style as he explores themes familiar to his later works, such as farming in rural America and the importance of landscape, human frailties and family and marital relationships. He also delves into controversial subject matter such as mental instability and the oppression of Native Americans.

Now in it's ninth year, the Walnut Creek Reads program is spearheaded by the Walnut Creek Library Foundation and the Contra Costa County Library. The program encourages residents to read the same book at the same time and then participate in a series of communitywide events in the fall that celebrate the book.

While Walnut Creek Reads organizers often like to have the author at one of the events, that obviously won't be the case with Steinbeck, so they are getting the next best thing, Goss said -- an expert on Steinbeck. On Wednesday, Sept. 17, Steinbeck Center Scholar in Residence Susan Schillinglaw will give a presentation entitled "A Journey into Steinbeck's California."

Other community events planned for the fall include a family living history day at Shadelands Ranch, a theatrical presentation of scenes from the book, and a day tour to the Steinbeck Center and Steinbeck House in Salinas.

There will also be two book discussions.

To make sure the book is available in abundance, the library foundation purchased 100 copies for the Ygnacio Valley branch and the downtown library, in addition to e-books participants can download on their electronic readers or tablets.

City Reads programs also are known as "One Book" projects, started in 1998 by the Library of Congress' Washington Center for the Book. While some local programs have fallen away since then, others, like Walnut Creek's, are still going strong. The San Francisco Reads program will announce its selection in July.

Goss thinks Walnut Creek's program continues because it's mainly volunteers that organize it, minimizing the burden on the library staff.

For more information on Walnut Creek Reads and to reserve seats for the events go to www.WCLibrary.org or call 925-935-5395.

Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.

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