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Community read starting at Jones Library in Amherst

— A novel that explores life in an immigrant neighborhood and themes of race and social class is being read by Amherst residents as part of its first-ever communitywide read.

“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,” written by Junot Díaz, is the centerpiece of the On the Same Page reading program, which will be supplemented by several events that will add enjoyment and understanding to the book, said Janet Ryan, head of programming and outreach at the Jones.

The book, which has won a Pulitzer Prize, National Book Critics Circle Award and Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, focuses on the story of a child growing up in a New Jersey ghetto who wants to be a fantasy writer and to fall in love, but is faced with the fuku curse related to his families roots in the Dominican Republic.

Ryan said On the Same Page was an idea pursued by Library Director Sharon Sharry.

“It’s been a goal of our new director; (it’s) something she wanted to do,” Ryan said.

In 2009, the Jones participated in a four-town community read of “Three Cups of Tea,” but this will be the first time a community read has been undertaken just by Amherst libraries.

The entire Amherst community is invited to read the book and participate in the related programs.

These begin with the showing of the documentary “Latinos Beyond Reel Challenging a Media Stereotype” Feb. 23 at 2:30 p.m. in the Jones Library’s Woodbury Room.

Lynne Weintraub, the coordinator of the Jones’ English as a Second Language program, will moderate a panel of experts on the immigration experience Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. in the Woodbury Room.

March 6 at 3 p.m. in the Woodbury Room, and March 7 at 7 p.m. in the Trustees Room, a book discussion will be led by Barry O’Connell, a professor of English at Amherst College.

The events culminate March 11, at the Amherst Regional Middle School at 7 p.m., where Diaz will appear for an author talk. Free tickets for this event will be available starting Wednesday at the Jones. Diaz will be introduced by University of Massachusetts English professor Sabina Murray.

Ryan said library staff expects this will be just the first of regular communitywide reads. “We’re hoping this will become an annual event,” Ryan said.

She noted that about 100 copies are available at the library, but staff is also encouraging people to purchase the book at local shops, including Amherst Books and Food for Thought Books.

The Massachusetts Center for the Book has created a reading and discussion guide to accompany the novel.

Because it explores some mature and controversial themes, the book is aimed at readers who are in their late teens and older.

Legacy Comments1

There's also an event on Tuesday, March 5 at 7 pm in the Woodbury Room at the Jones Library. Dr. Alan Goodman, Professor of Biological Anthropology at Hampshire College, will lead a discussion on the meaning of race after a screening of Race: The Power of an Illusion - The House We Live In, a documentary that explores how the concept of race developed and its implications in our society. Dr. Goodman served as a consultant on the documentary. The program is free and open to the public - we hope to see yo there!

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