Annual literary discussion series to begin at library

At the Library: Susan Withee

By A Contributor

Beginning this month, Manhattan Public Library will host the annual winter book discussion series, TALK: Talk About Literature in Kansas, sponsored by the Manhattan Library Association and the Kansas Humanities Council. Discussions will be held at 7 p.m. January through April in the library’s Groesbeck Room.

An exception will be February’s meeting; it will be held in the library’s lower atrium. Participants will discuss a different book each month.

Copies of the books featured are available for individual checkout at the library’s information desk. Please attend any one, all four, or as many of the discussions as your schedule will allow. 

The 2013 series theme is Between Fences and it was partially inspired by Robert Frost’s famous poem, “Mending Wall.” Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors,” but in the same poem he also noted, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” Fences and walls mark our territory, limit our movement and convey our sense of property. We define ourselves and our spaces with fences. Metaphorically fences and walls can mark different states of being - the familiar and the unfamiliar, the sacred and taboo, even life and death.

Fences and walls establish the boundaries between the civilized and uncivilized. In the poem, Frost questions the building of barriers and walls saying,”Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense.”

This year’s TALK series featured books are “The Wire-Cutters,” by Mollie E. Moore Davis; “Farewell to Manzanar,” by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston; “The Tortilla Curtain,” by T. C. Boyle; and “Fences,” by August Wilson. 

“The Wire-Cutters” by Mollie E. Moore Davis was first published in 1899 and is considered by many to be the first novel of the American Western genre, predating even Owen Wister’s “The Virginian.”

In the 19th century fencing off rangeland with barbed wire transformed the Great Plains and in Texas led to the 1880s wire-cutting wars between ranchers and farmers.

Davis’s writing about this era reveals her “sharp ear for regional dialect, abundant sense of frontier humor and keen grasp of historical detail.” The discussion of “The Wire-Cutters” is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 31. 

Jeanne Wakatsuki was seven years old in 1942 when her family members were uprooted from their home along with 10,000 other Japanese-Americans. They all were sent to live behind barbed-wire fences at Manzanar internment camp in the high mountain desert country of California.

Life in the camp combined the incongruities of high school sock hops, Boy Scouts and baton twirling lessons with searchlight towers and armed guards. “Farewell to Manzanar” is Wakatsuki Houston’s memoir of this experience and a recounting of the years after internment when the family struggled to rebuild their lives. It will be discussed Thursday, Feb. 28.

“The Tortilla Curtain” by T.C. Boyle is a powerful and timely novel that examines the parallel lives of a desperately poor, undocumented immigrant couple and a wealthy, comfortable and politically correct suburban couple living in close proximity to each other in the southern California hills. By random accident, their lives intersect for a brief period and the encounter provokes difficult questions concerning immigration, unemployment, discrimination, social responsibility and the brutal inequities that separate them and expose the failed American Dream. “The Tortilla Curtain” will be featured Thursday, March 28. 

“Fences,” a two-act play written by August Wilson, won the Tony Award for Best Play of 1987, the New York Drama Critic’s Circle award and the Pulitzer Prize.  Set in the 1950s to 1960s in an urban neighborhood in Pittsburgh, this play tells the story of a middle-aged African-American man, his wife and son and visits some universal themes of American life that were going through great upheaval at that time - segregation and racism, changing moral boundaries and family values, baseball and the American Dream. The play will be discussed Thursday, April 25. 

Again, programs will start at 7 p.m. and will be in the Manhattan Public Library’s Groesbeck Room on the second floor of the west wing.

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