“I’m particularly delighted to have ‘The Air We Breathe’ chosen for Columbia’s One Read program, as the idea of small groups gathering to discuss subjects of common interest is central to the novel itself. When I was inventing the discussion group at the center of the novel, I was thinking about both the workmen’s reading circles and study groups so popular at the time, and also my own experience of writers’ groups, which were central to my education (and which often met in libraries—hooray for libraries!) People confined to public sanatoria in the early part of the 20th century were commonly lumped together–as immigrants, as the indigent, as patients carrying a dreaded contagious disease—into someone else’s convenient categories. One way for them to maintain their individuality was for them to gather as a group defined by their own interests and their own stories, rather than by the preconceptions of outsiders.
The link to the reading groups popular in our time isn’t coincidental; I cherish these and think they’re an immensely valuable way to share our interests and passions for literature and for life.”