Well Intended / An uplifting spirit infuses WestportReads
Published 6:45 am, Thursday, January 5, 2012
The idea of a town reading a single book is enthralling to me. I love to read. But the consequence of everyone reading the same thing is that it gives us something to talk about beyond the polite greetings we all exchange.
Last year, I discussed "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers with the woman who washed my hair at the beauty parlor. It came up in conversation with several friends. My daughter's bus driver had a copy. I was able to attend a couple events at the library but mostly was just pleased when I saw someone walking around town with the same paperback as was on my nightstand.
That's changing, of course, with electronic readers. I can no longer comment on the reading material of the guy next to me on the train when he's perusing a digital book because to do so would be to confess that I am reading over his shoulder. (I am.) Two years ago, "The Housekeeper and the Professor," by Yoko Ogawa was a lovely story about the beauty of mathematics and the necessity of human connection. I read it aloud to my children. I recommended it to my mother and had a pleasant conversation with some teachers at my daughter's school. And I was glad when I saw the cherry blossom cover peeking out of anyone's pocketbook, knowing instantly we had at least that much in common.
Only a few hours into, "I Was Amelia Earhart," I've completed 39 percent of the story, according to the progress bar on the bottom of my Kindle. Based on the last few years' selection by the Westport Library, I would say brevity must be part of the criteria. That and it must be a good conversation starter. This book is written (mostly) from the perspective of an (imagined) Amelia Earhart if she had survived.
Consequently, we immediately think of the stories we know where individuals are separated from their society of origin. From "Gilligan's Island" to "Lord of the Flies" to "Survivor," we're familiar with the genre. (Build a shelter, start a fire, learn to find food and fresh water.) After the initial necessities are met, what happens when you're suddenly stranded on an island and you're left with your reflections? How do memories distort? How does perspective change? We've all been asked our desert island choices. Which books would we take? Which partner? Someone the other day told me that olive oil was her dessert-island cooking choice. (While I'm an enthusiastic cook, I imagine that olive oil would be low on my list of must-pack items. I would lean towards antibiotics and a mosquito net.
Amelia Earhart is enough of an American icon that the third graders fight over who gets to do their biography report on (and dress up as) the lost aviatrix. We are fascinated by her adventurer's spirit and the mystery of her disappearance. She didn't age before us and thus we're fascinated by what might have been. And aren't we all fascinated by what might have been? What are the alternate lives we might be leading or might in the future consider? What is essential?
The Westport Public Library has scheduled events all month -- visit www.westportlibrary.org. I look forward to having literary discussions with strangers this month, and I hope that you will too!
Krista Richards Mann is a Westport writer, and her "Well Intended" column appears every other Friday. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.