Category Archives: Library

Book Chat: Old Club Invigorates New Library

Longtime Westporter Nina Sankovitch is an environmental lawyer. She is also an author (her new book, “American Rebels: How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution” comes out in March).

For the last 5 years too, Nina has moderated Westport Library Book Chat discussions. She loves her volunteer job — and wants “06880” readers to know all about it. Nina writes:

There is so much in the new Westport Library. Author talks and musical productions; the gift shop with its array of eclectic book-inspired offerings; the new café, a great place to grab a coffee and meet a friend.

Budding fashionistas are welcome to use the sewing room; would-be podcasters can hone their skills in the audio production studio; inventors create in the Makers Space, and the huge screen in the Great Hall means that events like the impeachment hearings and election night can be shared experiences, not suffered through alone at home.

But what brings me to the library on the first Tuesday of every month, at 10 a.m. sharp, is the Book Chat.

Book Chatters chat about books.

It’s not new. We have been meeting for 10 years now, 12 times a year, and our purpose has not changed. We talk about the very best the Westport Library has to offer: books.

Books of all kinds, every genre, published in every era, written by writers from around the world. We don’t meet to talk about a specific book; we to talk about any books we’ve read lately. We talk about books we’ve loved,  books we hated, books we want others to read and know about.

I’ve been attending Book Chat since its inception in the summer of 2009 (when it was known as “Stop and Swap”). Some of us original book chatters are still around, and we welcome all newcomers.

There is no assigned reading for Book Chat, no requirement to participate – but although people show up claiming they just want to listen, after 15 minutes the newcomer’s hand comes up and an opinion is offered.

Nina Sankovitch, in a favorite pose. (Photo by Douglas Healey/New York Times)

People who read books tend to want to talk about them. We share our thoughts on the quality of the writing, or how satisfying (or not) the ending was. We also talk about what the book meant to us, and why we think someone else might love (or hate) it as much as we did.

Book Chat is a drop-in group. Some members attend every single month; others come when they can.

The range of reading interests represented is vast. We have people who love memoirs, and others who favor history but will read poetry. We have mystery and romance lovers, and those who read only literary fiction. We have those who read religious tomes and others who read religious theory (there is a difference).

We have those who prefer classics and those who want to read anything new. What is great about the variety of tastes is that I hear about books I might never have even considered reading.

Thirty to 40 books are discussed at each meeting/ I always come away with new titles to add to my list. This month they include Noon Wine, Ordinary Grace. Outline and Cautionary Tales for Children.

In my 10 years of Book Chat participation, I have seen that our group mirrors the community at large. We may not always agree on books – or politics, social issues, or even the best room in which to meet. But we are always respectful of each other, always kind and generous. We let everyone talk, and we listen. Our shared love of books not only brings us together, but is celebrated. Our common humanity is recognized.

I will always remember the story told by one of our cherished members, of how he wooed his girlfriend in college by reading aloud to her the stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Of course she married this treasure of a man – and they went on to share years of reading aloud to each other.

But only he attended our Book Chat meetings. He was the half of the couple who wished to talk about books. So he came, we talked, and we all swooned when he told the story of his college romance.

When we left at the end of the hour we felt connected, invigorated and more positive about the world – for having shared with each other the books we love.

Every time I attend Book Chat I come away with that great feeling of both belonging and participating.Book Chat is a vestige of the old library taking root in the new. I am grateful for being part of it all.

Friday Flashback #170

This aerial fascinating photo of downtown Westport in the 1930s was posted to Facebook by Bill Stanton.

The view is toward the east (top).

Among the intriguing sights:

  • At the bottom is National Hall. Just to its north sits a substantial-looking building that must have been torn down long ago. Today it’s the site of Bartaco.
  • The bridge across the Saugatuck River is much narrower than the current span. The river itself is wider than at present. Parker Harding Plaza has not yet been built. Water laps up against the back of buildings on the west side of Main Street.
  • The Westport Public Library (now a pop-up art gallery, at 1 Main Street) is the large building just to the left of the eastern end of the bridge.
  • Look closely (top center). You can see the gas station that is now Vineyard Vines.

What else do you notice? Click “Comments” below.

Unsung Heroes #125

Last weekend, the Westport Library held its annual holiday book and gift sale. As always, it was a smash.

The success of these sales — winter and summer — depends on generous donations of materials from the community.

Yet nothing would happen without volunteers. For the most recent event, 108 volunteers donated their time and energy. All worked hard.

But late Sunday afternoon, near closing time, the teen volunteers went above and beyond.

Henry Potter

The story starts with Henry Potter. He’s a project manager for Builders Beyond Borders, and for several years has overseen B3 teen volunteers at the book sales.

Through his own very high standard of working hard, Henry sets an excellent example for the group. He always does it with a smile.

During the recent Transformation Project, book donations were accepted in a temporary construction trailer on Jesup Green. The “drive up, drop off” experience was so positive for patrons, staff and volunteers that the library built a permanent annex in the Levitt parking lot, to accept and process donations.

For the past 2 months of construction, however, the library had to stop accepting contributions. Thanks to Henry and the teen volunteers though, the  new book donation annex will be open starting next Wednesday (December 4).

Mimi Greenlee, co-chair of the book sale, says, “We knew this was going to require a great deal of manpower, not only to move the items, but also to shelve the books in the correct categories. Henry happily agreed to set his team on this project.

“In 2 hours they accomplished what would have take us days. And they did it with smiling faces and great attitudes.”

Builders Beyond Borders volunteers get the donation annex ready.

B3 has done plenty of good work overseas. Last weekend, they helped out right in their own back yard.

(To nominate an Unsung Hero, email dwoog@optonline.net. Hat tip: Rachel Reese Pegnataro.)

Photo Challenge #255

First there were the library windows.

Then there was the point behind Levitt Pavilion, on the Saugatuck River.

Last week — for the 3rd Photo Challenge in a row — our image showed a bit of that beautiful, active slice of Westport just steps from downtown.

Johanna Rossi’s shot was of the charming, underused bridge spanning Deadman Brook (which honors not a no-longer-living person, but someone long ago with the improbable last name of Deadman).

It connects the Levitt/library parking lot with another lot, off Imperial Avenue. (It is transformed every Thursday from May to November, into the Westport Farmers’ Market.)

Johanna took the photo at night. The lights threw some readers off. Incorrect guesses included the Sherwood Mill Pond bridge heading to Compo Cove; the wooden bridge extending from Parker Harding Plaza over the Saugatuck River; Bridgewater headquarters off Weston Road; Saugatuck Shores, and Ned Dimes Marina at Compo Beach.

Louis Weinberg, Dan Vener, Andrew Colabella, Fred Rubin, Ralph Balducci, Jonathan McClure, Jo Ann Flaum and Jalna Jaeger all knew that the bridge is actually downtown, over Deadman Brook.

To see the photo, click here. To see it in real life — which you really should — head downtown. Any time, day or night.

Today’s Photo Challenge comes courtesy of Seth Schachter. If you know where in “06880” you’d see it, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Seth Schachter)

 

Larry Silver Celebrates Leonardo Da Vinci

It’s been 500 years since the death of Leonardo da Vinci. Museums all over the world are celebrating the life and death of the remarkable inventor/artist/ architect — the literal embodiment of a Renaissance man.

Leonardo da Vinci

In the 16th century, a plague killed nearly a third of Milan’s population.  In its aftermath da Vinci designed a city with greater communications, water, services and sanitation — all to prevent future spreads of the plague.

Unfortunately, the city was never built.

Half a millennium later, photographers from around the world were invited to submit images that show da Vinci’s influence, as seen in today’s world.

A thousand entries were submitted. Only 30 were chosen.

One was from Westport’s own Larry Silver. His image — taken in the Florida Everglades in 2001 — will be exhibited at the Trieste Photo Festival, and published in a companion book by Trieste’s Revoltella Museum.

But you don’t have to travel all the way to Italy to see Larry’s work. An exhibit of his remarkable photos is set for the Westport Library. It opens December 7, and runs through February 13.

There’s a reception on Friday, December 13 (6 p.m., Sheffer Room Gallery). And an artist’s talk with Miggs Burroughs at the library on January 23 (6 p.m.).

Florida Everglades, 2001 (Photo copyright/Larry Silver)

Andrew Wilk Presents …

Like many Westporters, Andrew Wilk is very impressed by the recent transformation of the Westport Library.

But, he knows, a building that pulses with creativity is a lot more than “sticks and bricks.”

What really counts is the activity inside.

Andrew Wilk

Wilk is in a position to help make the library buzz even more than it does. An Emmy-winning television executive producer and director — as well as a playwright and symphony conductor — he has one of the most impressive Rolodexes* around.

Now he’s tapping his countless contacts — men and women he’s met through “Live at Lincoln Center,” as chief creative officer of Sony Music Entertainment, and vice president for the National Geographic Channel — to bring exciting, provocative pioneers in science, the arts and humanities to the interactive library stage.

“Andrew Wilk Presents…” debuts next month. Though he’s not crazy about the title — “I just find people, set them up for success and let ’em go,” he demurs — the library series looks like yet another Andrew Wilk smash.

The first guest (Thursday, December 12, 7 p.m.) is Michael Davie. A filmmaker who has worked on major projects for Oprah Winfrey, National Geographic, Discovery and many more, he’ll weave together hair-raising adventures from Kosovo to the Congo, adding personal reflections on travel, family and connecting with people all over the world.

Michael Davie in action.

Davie most recently co-created Oprah’s landmark 7-part series “Belief.” He began his video career by walking from Cape Town to Cairo (!) — alone (!!) — and recording that amazing journey.

Along the way Davie chronicled police brutality in Johannesburg, landmine victims in Mozambique, the sexual abuse of street children in Zimbabwe, and the disparity between rich and poor in Kenya.

He has also interviewed Nelson Mandela, and reported on terrorism, the persecution of gays in Iraq, the environmental cost of mining in Peru, and rescue climbing on Denali.

The second speaker is the celebrated oceanographer Dr. Robert Ballard. He found the Titanic, Bismarck, USS Yorktown and John F. Kennedy’s PT-109, and explored the Lusitania.

Dr. Robert Ballard

His next goal: discover Amelia Earhart’s plane. Wilk has no doubt Ballard will accomplish that too. “He’s an amazing person, with riveting stories,” Wilk says.

The third speaker is filmmaker Kevin Bachar. A 3-time Emmy Award-winning writer and cinematographer, he spent 10 years as a National Geographic producer. He also wrote specials for Discovery Channels’ Shark Week.

“There are so many great series at the library,” Wilk says. “I hope this is one more that will elevate the community.”

And — with speakers like Dr. Robert Ballard — take us to unimagined depths.

(General admission seats for Michael Davie are $20 each. VIP tickets cost $100, and include preferred seating, and pre-show food and drinks with Davie and Andrew Wilk. Click here for tickets.)

* The virtual kind, of course.

“The Number On Great-Grandpa’s Arm” Comes To Westport

A pair of bomb threats to a Bridgeport temple — just 2 days before the first anniversary of the mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue — reminds us all that anti-Semitism is still very real.

Which makes an upcoming townwide, interfaith event particularly important.

This Sunday, November 10 (1:30 p.m.), the Westport Library will screen HBO’s Emmy Award-winning short documentary, “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm.”

The film — which features an intimate conversation between a young boy and hi beloved great-grandfather, an Auschwitz survivor — includes hundreds of animated drawings by Westport filmmaker/painter Jeff Scher.

The screening will be followed by an audience Q-and-A with Elliott Saiontz, the film’s young narrator; his mother, and Scher. The discussion will be moderated by Rev. John D. Betit, of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

One of Jeff Scher’s drawings in the film.

Monique Lions Greenspan has helped organize the event.

Her mother survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. “I know firsthand the incredible strength, optimism and gratefulness that survivors possess,” Monique says.

“Their stories provide invaluable lessons for both adults and children. I feel a deep sense of obligation to make our community aware of this opportunity for our children — and adults too — to bear witness to and learn from survivors’ experiences.”

Unfortunately, she says, in the aftermath of the Tree of Life Synagogue attacks — and others, in places as varied as Christchurch, Poway, El Paso and Halle — “it is more important than ever to commit to programs and discussions that clearly define expectations for, and the responsibilities of, all members of the community. Hate cannot be normalized.”

(The November 10 film is sponsored by the Federation for Jewish Philanthropy of Upper Fairfield County, PJ Our Way and the Westport Library. After the screening and discussion, the Nu Haven Kapelye offers “a musical journey from sorrow to joy, through the Klezmer tradition.” Both events are free. Click here for more information.) 

Pic Of The Day #930

Library Riverwalk (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Photo Challenge #253

With all the ooohing and aaahing over the new Westport Library — the versatile Forum, the amazing children’s space, the great conference rooms and exhibition spaces and café — it’s easy to overlook the windows.

The east side — the one facing the police station — features a striking set of windows. I’m not sure how to describe them — heavy? curved? — so you can click here to see for yourself.

Wendy Cusick, Jonathan McClure, Clark Thiemann, James Weisz, Amy Schneider and Mark Jacobs are all library-goers who knew exactly what Heli Stagg’s photo showed. (She declined photo credit last week. She figured her role as the library’s retail manager would be too much of a hint.)

Meanwhile — for obvious reasons — I “love” this week’s Photo Challenge. If you know where in Westport you’d see it, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Sandy Rothenberg)

Pic Of The Day #910

The Westport Library held its first Mix It Up Tour last night in its new Forum space. Live music, a DJ, food, drinks, an art auction — and very cool decorations — inspired a young crowd that came early and stayed late.

The Westport Library held its first Mix It Up Tour Saturday night in its new Forum space. Live music, a DJ, food, drinks, an art auction — and very cool decorations — inspired a young crowd that came early and stayed late. (Photo/Dan Woog)