As we get closer to the announcement for our 10th-anniversary book, we want to finish looking back at the books that we have read together as a community over the last couple of years.
In 2019, our 6th year of Big Read Lakeshore, we visited the Mirabal sisters during the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez is a historical fiction novel that shifts in time from the 1940s, 1960s, and 1990s. During this program, we were able to hear from the author Julia Alvarez on a virtual visit, where she gave us a new perspective and lens through which to view the world around us. We were challenged to be butterflies representing courage, goodness, and standing up for the vulnerable, and we also were told to try to find the silent butterflies that might exist around us.
In 2020 we faced a unique challenge. When initially choosing In the Heart of the Sea for the 2020 Big Read book, no one knew how much the program would have to change and adapt to regulation and Zoom calls due to Covid-19, but we were still able to have a great year of discussion. In the Heart of the Sea tells the story of an 1820 sinking of an American whaling ship called the Essex and how the crew fought to survive in the aftermath. This story was familiar to some as it is also the basis for Herman Melville’s 1851 novel Moby-Dick. Nataniel Philbrick’s novel, published in 2000, uses accounts from Thomas Nickerson, a teenage cabin boy aboard the ship. A focus on this book brought about conversations on whose side of history gets told and whose side of the story is never seen.
An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo was the focus of the 2021 Big Read. This was our first Big Read book that was poetry, not prose, and this led to many exciting opportunities to talk about storytelling through poetry. The collection focuses on Harjo’s reconnection with her Native American roots and ancestors in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. This book also allowed discussion of American history through events like the Indian Removal Act, reservations, boarding schools, and much more. Through themes of struggle and perseverance, we could reflect on the ideas of hope and rebirth. The Big Read also partnered with the Kruizenga Art Museum at Hope College to put on an exhibit on Native American Art to bring another art form to life in our community.
Last year, 2022, we traveled far back to the Greek Heroic Age with the book Circe by Madeline Miller. Circe is an adaptation of some famous classic Greek myths like the Odyssey. This adaptation shows a unique look into the role of women in ancient times with a reassessment of the stories of famous male heroes like Hermes, Jason, and Odysseus. Along the way, we questioned what defines a hero and saw the importance of perspective. Through the original songs of Joe Goodkin in a folk opera performance, we were also able to hear the story of the Odyssey from a different perspective.
Now approaching our 2023 Big Read program and our 10th year of traveling through these stories, we are grateful that our readers have been open to new experiences and willing to hear the stories that are not always told. Before we tell you our plan for this year’s book, we encourage you to check out these past stories. Whether it is a first read or your copy is covered in pen marks, there is always something new to be found in the different perspectives of an old story.