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Books: From thrillers to politics, we’ve read a little of everything

By Deirdre Parker Smith
dp1@salisburypost.com
Here’s a little history of the Summer Reading Challenge.
The first year, Barbara Setzer and the Libretto Book Club chose three works by Sue Monk Kidd, her memoir, “Dance of the Dissident Daughter,” her bestseller, “The Secret Life of Bees” and “The Mermaid Chair.”
Catawba College’s Dr. Laurel Eason moderated the discussion of the books.
“We had no idea if this would work,” Setzer says. It did, attracting a standing-room-only crowd to a meeting room at Waterworks Visual Arts Center.
In 2006, the challenge included John Hart’s first book, “The King of Lies,” and Hart drew a bigger crowd, this time in the F&M Trolley Barn. Catawba College’s Kurt Corriher spoke about his thriller, “Someone to Kill.” Local poet, columnist and philanthropist Katharine Osborne discussed Joan Didion’s memoir of loss, “The Year of Magical Thinking.” Osborne, who suffered losses of her own, did a particularly poignant review. She died in 2008.
The fourth book was E.L. Doctorow’s “March,” a fictionalized account of Sherman’s March across the South, focusing on the people along the way. Gary Freeze led that discussion.
Eason was the moderator again, and suggested a theme for the reading, which, in 2006, was “Conflict and Crisis.”
In 2007, a novel and a memoir captured the attention of local readers and the country. “Water for Elephants” became a bestseller, and Jeannette Walls’ memoir of a difficult, bizarre childhood, “The Glass Castle,” had everyone talking.
A tough novel to read, “The Known World,” which centered on a black man who owned slaves, came into focus when panelist Dr. Cassandra Newby-Alexander put African-American history into perspective.
Dr. Andrew Ettin, a professor of English at Wake Forest University and rabbi at the local temple, talked about Jewish history and the book, “The Great Escape,” by Kati Marton. The non-fiction work followed several Jewish men from Hungary who were forced to flee their homeland during World War II and became famous and successful in America and around the world.
In 2008, Newby-Alexander was back to discuss “Black Men Built the Capitol,” a guidebook of the Washington, D.C., area that told the stories of the slaves who designed and built many of our most beloved national symbols.
Two thrillers, “The Zero Game” by Brad Meltzer, and “The Appeal” by John Grisham used crooked politics and politicians in their plots.
With the theme “Prose and Politics,” 2008 also brought a tough read, “Divided America,” a book of political numbers and charts. Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College offered three sessions to read the book together and break it down, leading to a clearer understanding of how we vote and how much that has changed over time.
With this year’s “Stories of Courage,” the trend continues ó asking readers to do a little more than beach reading over the summer, although reading these books on the beach isn’t a bad idea.
“Part of the goal is to stretch,” Setzer says.
And whether you read all the books or some of the books, or none of the books, you are welcome to the reception and panel discussion on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at 6 p.m. at Waterworks Visual Arts Center and F&M Trolley Barn.

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