Sunday, February 12, 2017

Have You Heard of the Big Read?

I first learned about The Big Read when my local Volusia County Library System did one last year. It’s a national program sponsored by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. The idea is that everyone in the community reads the same book, and then they all enjoy multiple events about the book, the author, and the times. All events are free. Last year's book was To Kill a Mockingbird. This year the choice was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. To make it easy for people to get the book, the library had 1500 copies to give away.

The Great Gatsby, published in 1925, is the story of Jay Gatsby’s pursuit of the American Dream. While he achieves great wealth, he is destroyed by his obsessive pursuit of Daisy, his first love, who is now married to the super-rich Tom Buchanan.  Gatsby’s story explores the decadence, excesses and arrogance of the super-rich during the 1920s, as seen through the eyes of his neighbor, midwesterner Nick Carraway.

I made it to three of the programs.  One was a book discussion led by local playwright Ann Magaha, who began with a power point that showed the autobiographical nature of the book. Did you know, for example, that Fitzgerald grew up in a middle-class townhouse, but he always felt his family was poor compared to great wealth at the other end of his street?

Another event was “Muse to Madness: The Life of Zelda Fitzgerald.”  It was one-woman show by writer Debra Conner, in which she played Fitzgerald's wife Zelda, first as a patient in a mental hospital looking back on her life and then as a young flapper in the twenties. Many people, including Hemingway, blamed Zelda for Fitzgerald’s drinking and decline, but this show presented a more sympathetic picture.  I'm intrigued and want to learn more about her.

And last for me was a Poetry Slam where poets read their own works or the poems of others. This one was supposed to be a contest among various presentations, but only one poet actually showed up.  Still, Melody Dimick went ahead with her presentation, first reading some poems by twenties poet Dorothy Parker, each ending with a funny, surprise couplet.(I'm checking out her poems next time I'm at the library.) Then Melody read her own “found poem.”  

Do you know what a found poem is? I didn’t until I met Melody, who defines it as “words, phrases, lines, and passages from other sources combined into  . . . the form of a poem.” Her found poem was made up of sentences and phrases from The Great Gatsby.  It’s amazing how she put them together to make a coherent poem!

Some other events were arts and crafts for kids, a twenties party for teens, a Jeopardy game, and a jazz music program. They also showed of several films, including “The Great Gatsby” (two versions, one with Robert Redford and one with Leonardo DeCarprio), and Woody Allen’s, “Midnight in Paris,” a great film that I’ve seen twice.

Has your community ever tried a Big Read? Did you participate? It’s a fun way to learn about a classic, and it  involves everyone in reading!