Other places have community-wide reading months.
Westport is not “other places.”
For WestportREADS — the 8th annual event in which individuals, families and organizations read, discuss and share the same book — Westport Library director Maxine Bleiweis and her staff have created a series of lectures, movies, music and more that is a local, literary version of Mardi Gras.
The analogy is apt. Zeitoun — the 2011 WestportREADS book — is a riveting tale that leaves no inch of New Orleans unexplored.
Dave Eggers — a young, cool and very insightful writer — describes the true tale of Syrian-American Abdulrahman Zeitoun, his American wife Kathy, and their 4 children, as they are buffeted by 2 of America’s toughest challenges: the war on terror, and Hurricane Katrina.
The library says: “Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is an inspiring story of one family’s unthinkable struggle with wind, water, and forces beyond.”
With its themes of heroism, chaos, tolerance and stereotypes, Zeitoun practically begs to be read — and responded to. The library has devised many ways to do that.
But, in typical WestportREADS fashion, plenty more thought-provoking programming builds upon the book’s base.
- Tomorrow (Wed., Jan 5, 7:30 p.m.) Dr. James Hansen — arguably America’s leading climatologist — will discuss the hurricane’s relationship with climate change.
- On Thursday (Jan. 6, 7:30 p.m.), New Orleans author Tom Piazza talks about the culture and uncertain future of this great city.
- This Sunday (Jan. 9, 1:30 p.m.), the movie “My Name is Khan” follows an autistic Muslim man from India who — following 9/11 and a personal tragedy — embarks on an inspiring journey to prove his loyalty.
- Next week (Wed., Jan. 12, 7:30 p.m.) 3 intriguing women — a Muslim, a Christian and a Jew — discuss how their search for understanding led them to found The Faith Club.
- Later (Thurs., Jan. 19, 7:30 p.m.) Columbia University provost Dr. Claude Steele tackles the topic of stereotypes, and their effect on everyone.
- “Zeitoun Monologues” — original staged readings by New Orleans playwright Rob Florence, with casting assembled by Westport’s Carole Schweid — is set for Sat., Jan. 29 (7:30 p.m.).
- Throughout the month there are book discussions — some led by the library, others not.
- And — if all this jawing and thinking tires you out — get ready for Friday, Feb. 11 (8 p.m.). A big party features live jazz, and New Orleans cuisine. It’s a fundraiser for both the library and the Zeitoun Foundation.
“When WestportREADS happens, so do connections,” Bleiweis says.
“People meet their neighbors. And they talk about things they otherwise don’t.”
New Orleans has plenty of stereotypes — good and bad. So do Muslims.
And so does Westport.
WestportREADS offers an opportunity to burrow beneath the surface of those stereotypes.
And read a great book, too.
(For more information on WestportREADS, click here or call 203-291-4800. There are 2 companion books for children: Two Bobbies (about a cat and dog left behind during Katrina) for the youngest readers, and Ninth Ward (about a girl and her grandmother in the hurricane) for upper elementary and some middle school readers.)