Looking for a Southwestern escape this summer, minus the desert temperatures? Old Lyme's Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library has an appealing option: The community's first One Town, One Book town-wide community read, featuring author Barbara Kingsolver's fifth book, "The Bean Trees."
"We're part of SECT One Town, One Book and enjoy participating in the successful regional community-wide read program led by Betty Anne Reiter, director of the Groton Public Library," says Mary Fiorelli, director of Old Lyme's Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library, "but we decided it was time to get more of our own residents involved in our own read."
The series, made possible by a grant from the CT Humanities Center for the Book and embraced by the Town of Old Lyme, the Sound View Beach Association, Lyme-Old Lyme Public Schools and the Old Lyme Historical Society, is open to teenagers and adults, Old Lyme's year-round and summer residents and interested neighbors. It kicks off Wednesday with the first of three evening speakers in town, each addressing one of three universal themes broached by Kingsolver near the start of her career.
"The Bean Trees," published in 1988, is about Taylor Greer, a feisty young woman who went through high school in the 1970s with two goals: to avoid pregnancy and to get the heck out of rural, poor Kentucky. She sets off alone in a '55 Volkswagen Beetle, and has a life-changing stop at an Oklahoma bar, where Taylor picks up a 3-year-old American-Indian girl that she names Turtle. The duo make it to the Jesus is Lord Used Tires shop in the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz., which turns out to be a sanctuary for Central-American refugees. The story keeps on unfolding from there.
"This young character, she's so independent, she has a lot of spunk, it's a wonderful story of how she leaves town, doesn't seem to stop and think much about the addition of this young child; she's just living in the moment, and after she meets these people out in Arizona, she has to come to grips at a much deeper level with the responsibilities of becoming a mother and a parent," Fiorelli says. "She creates another whole family for herself; although it wasn't one of the three speakers' themes we picked - adoption, immigration and Native-American culture - this will definitely come up in the discussions."
The beauty of the One Book program is that participants aren't required to read the book to join the discussions. Each event will be facilitated by Marsha Bansavage, an Old Lyme resident who has a PhD in the humanities and has been a book discussion facilitator with CT Humanities and at the Phoebe for at least five years. She also taught high school English in Bristol.
The first speaker, Lynn Gabbard, director of Adoption Services for Lutheran Social Services of New England in Rocky Hill, will present "The Face of Adoption" tomorrow at the Phoebe.
"There are obvious adoption-related themes - including raising a child not born to her, 'instant' motherhood, 'atypical' family constellations consisting of non-related people, single motherhood, atypical stereotypes of motherhood and family, long-term effects of child abuse, child abandonment," says Gabbard, who has adopted and raised seven children with her husband.
"The book also indirectly addresses the circumstances under which children become 'adoptable' or abandoned in countries - the decisions that parents and others sometimes feel forced to make, in times of war or political oppression (or) extreme poverty, that result in their children being cared for/adopted by others," says Gabbard.
The second speaker, Attorney Nancy Harrington, an immigration lawyer based in New London, has assisted hundreds of businesses, individuals, families and organizations with immigration-related legal issues since she started practice in Boston in 1994. She lives in southeastern Connecticut with her children where she continues to be an advocate for immigration matters.
"We wanted someone who works with people and has a real interest in their becoming U.S. citizens, not just the legal details of the process," Fiorelli says. "It's the human stories that we're after."
The series ends with Michael Caduto, an award-winning author, master storyteller, ecologist, educator, poet and musician who lives in New Hampshire. A regular on National Public Radio and BBC TV, in 1984, he founded P.E.A.C.E. - Programs for Environmental Awareness and Cultural Exchange to build greater understanding and respect for and among the world's cultures.
The programs are all free, but advance sign-up is requested. The Phoebe has ordered multiple copies of "The Bean Trees" for 7-day loan. The library is even launching a blog for online participants. Each week, it will pose questions that can be answered anonymously online. Go to www.oldlyme.lioninc.org or call (860) 434-1684 to RSVP.
Fiorelli notes, "You can come and participate at any level."