Looking for the Perfect Book

Oprah would be delighted.

The afternoon talk show host, famous for plugging books, has moved millions of people to pick up her literary recommendations. And now several American cities are following her lead, trying to motivate their residents to turn off their TVs and read together like a giant book club.

This is how it works: a committee of civic groups and literary types pick one book that the whole city reads at the same time, which inspires personal bonding and intellectual discourse in coffee shops and bars across the city. Of course, the program is voluntary.

But the movement to get an entire city on the same page is running up against a major problem in the famously opinionated Big Apple.

"New Yorkers can't agree on anything," said  Bob Contant, owner of the East Village independent St. Mark's Bookshop.

What started with the best intentions is now morphing into a lesson in political correctness. The trouble is, activists pushing this read-a-thon don't want to offend anyone.

And that's a tall order in a city of over 8 million people.

"To be told what to read, to be given an opinion, to be given a perspective in advance and then to be expected to talk about it in some politically correct show trial of an exhibition is the opposite of learning," said Jim Pinkerton, a columnist for Long Island Newsday.

But other cities have done it without controversy. In Chicago, they agreed on the classic To Kill a Mockingbird by Hatper Lee. In Orlando, they picked the famous children's story Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. And this spring the people of Los Angeles will read Ray Bradbury's sci-fi favorite, Fahrenheit 451.

In New York, a committee made up of librarians, educators and book store owners are debating a couple of choices. One is The Color of Water, a story about a man with a black father and a Jewish mother who founded a Baptist church in Harlem, by James McBride. Another possibility is Native Speaker about a Korean immigrant in Queens, New York.

Some say the trouble is too many strong egos in the city.

"New Yorkers are just right for this," Pinkerton said. "They are arrogant enough to think their opinions matter so much."

And New York is the scene of so many well-known works, from such city-centric titles as E.B. White's Here Is New York and Robert Caro's The Power Broker to novels like Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem and Steven Millhauser's Pulitzer Prize-winning Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer.

With such a wide spectrum, many are pessimistic about New York's ability to agree on any one title.

"New York isn't capable of containing itself to one book." said Contant.