Don’t you just hate it when you’re reading a novel with which you’ve fallen completely in love, but nobody else you know is reading it at the same time, so you have no one around off whom you can bounce your burning observations about the story and its characters? Literary-oriented online “communities” like Goodreads are an option; but an Internet forum, however lively, lacks the spark of a face-to-face discussion.
Once a year, however, the nationwide celebration of literacy put on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) known as the Big Read gives real-life communities a chance to get on the same wavelength, gathering all sorts of discussion groups, lectures, screenings and even kids’ events under one big umbrella of a well-loved book. The Big Read selection for 2014 is Housekeeping, which in 1980 won author Marilynne Robinson the PEN/Hemingway Award for Best First Novel and a Pulitzer Prize nomination in the Fiction category (Robinson went on to cop a Pulitzer for Gilead in 2005). Since its publication, Housekeeping has also made several prestigious lists of “100 Best Novels.”
Though it’s not generally regarded as falling into the Young Adult fiction category, Housekeeping is a coming-of-age tale told from the point of view of a young woman. It involves the gradual fragmentation of several generations of a family in a small Idaho town on a railroad line. Protagonist Ruth and her sister Lucille are raised by their eccentric aunt Sylvie after their mother commits suicide by driving off a bridge and their grandfather is killed in a train crash. Another aunt and their grandmother find solace in religious fervor, but Lucille moves out in search of normalcy while Ruth takes off on the road with Sylvie.
Hence, topics like mental illness, religiosity and trains become additional themes around which to organize Big Read events in our area over the coming seven weeks, from March 15 to May 2. Bill Forsyth directed a movie adaptation of Housekeeping starring Christine Lahti in 1987, and several screenings will also occur as part of the celebrations.
The primary organizer for the Big Read in our region is Bard College’s Center for Civic Engagement, partnering with the Germantown, Kingston, Red Hook, Rhinecliff and Tivoli libraries. If you’re mainly interested in participating in a book club discussion of Housekeeping, you can do that at any of the following venues:
Red Hook Evening Book Club, Monday, March 17 at 7 p.m. at the Red Hook Public Library, with Patrizia Heymann.
Tivoli Page Turners, Thursday, March 20 at 7 p.m. at the Tivoli Public Library.
Kingston Book Club, Friday, March 21 at 12 noon, Kingston Public Library.
Kingston Classics in Religion Book Group, Wednesdays, April 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Kingston Public Library, with Debbie Schnide and Kathy DeMatteo.
Germantown Book Club, Wednesday, April 2 at 4 p.m. at the Germantown Public Library.
Oblong Books, Thursday, April 3 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Oblong Books at 6422 Montgomery Street in Rhinebeck, with Bard College professors Deirdre d’Albertis and Mary Caponegro.
Germantown Central School, Thursday, April 10 featuring high school English students.
Red Hook Book Club, Tuesday, April 15 at 2:30 p.m. at the Red Hook Public Library, with Dawn Jardine.
Bard College in Annandale, Thursday, April 17, with James Wood.
Screenings of the film version of Housekeeping will be held at:
Germantown Public Library’s Hover Room, Saturday, March 15 at 7 p.m., with a discussion to follow.
Morton Hall in Rhinecliff, Wednesday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m.
Upstate Films in Rhinebeck, Saturday, April 12 at 1 p.m.
But those doings are just the tip of the iceberg: The Big Read calendar is jam-packed with related events. Some of these include discussions for teens of Young Adult literature inspired by or similar to Housekeeping; screenings of other films with related themes; and, more broadly connected, Red Hook’s Read Local Literary Festival on Friday and Saturday, April 11 and 12. Somewhat further afield but still being conducted (if you’ll forgive the pun) under the aegis of the Big Read are a whole lot of railroading-themed events, from historic preservation lectures for adults to “Little Read” Thomas the Tank Engine story hours for children.
Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping: The Big Read 2014 events, Saturday, March 15 to Friday, May 2, various venues in Annandale, Germantown, Kingston, Red Hook, Rhinebeck, Rhinecliff & Tivoli; (845) 758-7878, www.bard.edu/hannaharendtcenter/bigread/events.