By Deirdre Parker Smith, SalisburyPost.com
It's that time again.
Summer — at least it feels like summer, so that means it's time for the Summer Reading Challenge.
Now in its seventh year, a few changes have been made.
Barbara Setzer, who started the challenge and spearheaded it for the last six years, has stepped back and a committee has taken over the project.
Rowan Public Library and Waterworks Visual Arts Center are are working together to plan and carry out the event.
And lots of other people and businesses are helping, too.
A committee formed this year to choose a theme and books. Committee members included Rebecca Hyde, Betty Moore and Gretchen Beilfuss Witt from the library, Setzer, Deal Safrit of Literary Bookpost, Sarah Hall of Center for Faith and the Arts, and me, your lowly book reviewer.
During discussion of recent books and events in the world, a theme quickly emerged — is humanity being swallowed by technology and the demands of a fast-paced world?
We talked about how some things in modern society seemed to be dehumanizing and and how to reconnect. We talked recent books that addressed that and books that people may know or books that people may not have seen in the light of our theme.
We tossed around "being human" and "human versus the machine" and "humanity," until someone said, "the art of being human."
So that's our theme, The Art of Being Human, and it was inspired by two non-fiction books. "Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age," is by Maggie Jackson, who writes the "Balancing Acts" column in the Boston Globe. Her book is about multi-tasking, "How did we get to the point where we keep one eye on our Blackberry and one eye on our spouse — in bed," the blurb on the back of the book reads. "We can contact millions of people worldwide, so why is it hard to schedule a simple family dinner together? What can we do about it?"
The next book that came up was "Unsuspecting Souls: The Disappearance of the Human Being," by Barry Sanders.
His book examines "modern society's indifference to the individual." He maintains it started with the Industrial Revolution and the treatment of employees and continues today with societal networks that don't actually require face-to-face communication.
Now, if those two sound tough, don't worry. "Distracted" is a mere 268 pages if you skip the footnotes and index.
"Unsuspecting Souls" is 338 pages, minus footnotes and index.
But footnotes can lead you to other reading on the topics, so don't completely ignore them.
We picked two books of fiction, one recent, one a classic.
"Frankenstein," by Mary Shelley, is the classic. No, it isn't just a horror story. It's a look at the limits of human creativity and humanity itself.
A bestseller when it came out in 1818, the book remains one of the most recognized pieces of English literature.
This one is not big, either. Just 265 pages in the Penguin Classics version, with footnotes that follow.
Yes, the language is not what you hear on television. It has a grace and formality that takes you through the story at a measured pace.
Finally, in looking for a recent novel, we chose "Olive Kitteridge," by Elizabeth Strout. Now it's a collection of stories, but all include Olive, a woman who is hard to love, or even like.
But she clearly shows the many facets of being human, all too human, and her situations, though fictional, certainly represent choices we make every day.
The other good thing about this year's books: All are available in trade paperback, and "Frankenstein" is floating around in all sorts of editions.
The best thing in these tough economic times is all will be available at Rowan Public Library.
"The library is taking a stronger role in it," said Melody Moxley. Always part of the challenge, it seemed natural for the library to take on the tough work of coordinating the program.
Among the sponsors are those who have been involved from the beginning — Waterworks Visual Arts Center, Trinity Oaks, F&M Bank, Friends of Rowan Public Library, Catawba College, Literary Bookpost, Salisbury Post and Livingstone College.
Moxley said funding remains stable, despite the economy, showing that the community still supports programs such as the challenge.
On Oct. 12, a panel discussion will wrap up the summer's reading, with all local members.
- "Frankenstein" — Dr. David Schroeder, assistant professor of English at Catawba College.
- "Olive Kitteridge" — Dr. Sheila Brownlow, professor of psychology at Catawba.
- "Distracted" — Dr. Michael Bitzer, associate professor of political science and history at Catawba.
- "Unsuspecting Souls" — Dr. Andr Resner, professor of homeletics and church worship of Hood Theological Seminary.- Moderator is Dr. Kurt Corriher, professor of acting, dramatic literature and film criticism at Catawba.
The discussion will be Oct. 12 at 6 p.m., starting with a reception at Waterworks, courtesy of Trinity Oaks, followed by the panel in the F&M Trolley Barn.
A play and film tie in to the theme. The library will show the 1931 version of "Frankenstein" this summer.
The play, "Vesta," will be presented by the St. Thomas Players of Center for Faith and the Arts. Rowan Regional Medical Center Hospice had approached the group about the play, and is sponsoring it. It deals with end-of-life issues. Duke's Institute on Care at the End of Life offers the play to help promote understanding.
It will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15 and 2 p.m. Sept. 19 at Looking Glass Artist Collective Black Box Theater, 405 N. Lee St.
Moxley says she likes the thought of people reading together and hopes it brings the community together. "I like having a dramatic production that ties in."
As always, if you read some of the books, all of the books or none of the books, you are welcome at the reception and discussion.
Stay tuned to the book page, our website and the library's website, www.rowanpubliclibrary.org.