The Englewood Public Library has been awarded $’,500 from the American Library Association (ALA) and Nextbook for a five-session book discussion program on Jewish literature at the library in the fall. This is the second grant awarded to the library as part of ALA’s "Let’s Talk about It: Jewish Literature" program.
The theme of the upcoming series is "A Mind of Her Own: Fathers and Daughters in a Changing World." Benjamin Nelson of Englewood, professor of English and comparative literature at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, will be the program’s scholar and discussion leader.
The ALA selected 95 public and academic libraries in 31 states to receive grants for the "Let’s Talk about It" program. Based on a reading and discussion model pioneered nationally by ALA starting in 198′, the program features scholar-led, theme-based discussions that explore the best in contemporary and classic Jewish literature, grouped around six themes. Nextbook, which bills itself as a "gateway to Jewish literature, culture, and ideas for Jews and non-Jews alike," is a national initiative to promote books that illuminate 3,000 years of Jewish civilization.
"The Englewood Public Library has an outstanding track record in attracting an audience and presenting a wonderful program, based on feedback we’ve gotten from the patrons," says Mary Davis Fournier, project director in the public programs office of the ALA in Chicago. "They’ve done a great job in looking beyond this as a book discussion group and seeing it as an opportunity for starting a dialogue."
The books, which will be discussed on five Monday nights in September, October, and November, are "Tevye the Dairyman," by Sholom Aleichem; "The Bread Givers," by Anzia Yesierka; "O My America!," by Joanna Kaplan; "American Pastoral," by Philip Roth; and "The Bee Season," by Myla Goldberg.
According to Ann Sparanese, head of adult and young adult services at the library, who applied for the grant, the money is used to pay for the leader’s services and to buy 50 copies of the books, which will be lent out to group members. Each of the five evening sessions, which run from 7 to 9 p.m., will include a ‘0-minute presentation by Nelson, group discussion of an individual book, and refreshments.
"I think our library was chosen because of its commitment to public programming," says Sparanese. "We also have a relatively large Judaica collection and have an earmark for buying a certain amount of Jewish literature each year."
Nelson, who helped select the theme, says it’s a personal one for him. He and his wife, Miriam, who recently retired after ‘9 years of teaching literature at The Frisch School in Paramus, have three daughters and no sons. "I’m very much involved in father-daughter relationships," he says. Nelson, who hasn’t yet read one or two of the books, credits his wife, who has read all the selections, with assuring him that the books and theme fit together nicely. "They seem to be books that start with a core plot and action involving father-daughter relationships and then move outward and beyond to other themes generational conflict sometimes, or the theme of being a stranger in a strange land."
According to Fournier, "The enduring attraction of having a scholar lead this program is that it’s less formal than signing up for a class, but more intellectually stimulating than a regular book group."