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The reading went quite well with a very gifted and lively group of Santee's finest; here's a Union-Tribune piece on Steinbeck Big Read events in and around San Diego:
‘Grapes of Wrath’ chosen for first Big Read
County library plans events tied to novel
By Joe Tash, SPECIAL TO THE UNION-TRIBUNE
Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 12:02 a.m.
“The Grapes of Wrath,” the 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by John Steinbeck, with its themes of poverty, foreclosures and workers’ dreams of a better life, is the subject of the San Diego County Library’s first Big Read program.
The program runs through March 15, and 338 events are planned at the county library’s 33 branches and bookmobile. Among the highlights are lectures by Steinbeck scholars, musical and dramatic performances, discussion groups, cooking classes, screenings of the film version of the book and workshops on such topics as foreclosure prevention and résumé writing.
Library officials said the book was chosen because many of the struggles faced by the Joad family and the people they encountered are similar to those faced by today’s families, such as high unemployment and large numbers of home foreclosures.
“The Big Read doesn’t just focus on the literature. It focuses on how the literature relates to our lives,” said county library spokeswoman Nancy St. John.
To help fund its participation in the Big Read, the library applied for and won a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, which sponsors such programs across the country. Although this year marks the first countywide Big Read, the Encinitas branch of the county library participated in the program two years ago when it focused on the classic “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee.
Steinbeck’s book chronicles the travails of the Joad family, first as it makes the heartbreaking decision to leave its farm in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl, where drought has parched the land, to its cross-country journey and arrival in California, where the family faces further deprivations along with tens of thousands of other migrant workers.
The story has strong ties to California, said principal librarian Pat Downs Bright, but its roots spread more broadly.
“It is an American story, aspiring for the good life, aspiring for providing for your family. Absolutely, it was the perfect choice,” she said.
Money from the NEA grant paid for 500 copies of the book, which brings the county library’s total to 600 copies of “The Grapes of Wrath,” St. John said. The grant also funded some of the activities at the various branches. The library matched the grant with in-kind contributions of staff time and materials.
A kickoff event was held last Saturday at the El Cajon branch, featuring a band playing dance music from the 1930s.
Among the upcoming events will be readings from a stage adaptation of “The Grapes of Wrath” performed by actors from the San Diego Repertory Theatre, and a talk by Rick Wartzman, author of “Obscene in the Extreme,” an account of efforts by growers in Kern County, where the book is set, to burn and ban the book after its publication.
Steinbeck scholars Susan Shillinglaw of San Jose State University and William Nericcio of San Diego State University will give talks, and local chefs will prepare “Dust Bowl-era cuisine” during a session planned at the Imperial Beach branch library.
Local musician and storyteller Ross Moore will give 11 performances around the county, singing songs from Woody Guthrie’s 1940 landmark album, “Dust Bowl Ballads.” According to Moore, the album publicized the plight of Oklahoma families and helped folk music cross over to wide popularity in the United States.
Among the songs is “Tom Joad,” a musical version of “The Grapes of Wrath” that Guthrie wrote after seeing the film. Another is “I Ain’t Got No Home,” which includes the lyrics “Rich man took my home and drove me from my door, And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.” Guthrie also wrote the anthemic “This Land is Your Land.”
“To me it’s the single best depiction of what was happening in the Dust Bowl. (Guthrie’s) songs very much capture their story. So there’s a very strong connection to the book,” Moore said.
County residents can also join an online discussion of “The Grapes of Wrath” and learn more about the book and its historical context. (One example: The book’s title came from the song “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” by Julia Ward Howe, at the suggestion of Steinbeck’s wife, Carol.)
The goal of the Big Read program, St. John said, is to bring the entire community together to discuss the book and its themes.
“In today’s economy, our libraries are busier than they have ever been. We can see it on a daily basis, that people are checking out books instead of buying them, and they are attending free events instead of paying for them at another venue. And they are using our libraries to apply for jobs and create résumés on our computers. So in the past year, we’ve really felt the value of the library to the community,” St. John said.
For a complete schedule of Big Read events, log on towww.sdcl.org/bigread.
Joe Tash is a freelance writer.