BELFAST, Maine — The Belfast Free Library has been selected by the Maine Humanities Council to offer “Let’s Talk About It,” a free reading and discussion group with copies of the books available through the library. This program is provided by the Maine Humanities Council’s Harriet P. Henry Center for the Book in cooperation with the Maine State Library.
The series, “Invisible New England: The Real New England,” will have its first meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 20, and continue for four sessions throughout the fall concluding on Tuesday, Dec. 6.
The first book to be read and discussed on Sept. 20 is “The Living is Easy” by Dorothy West with these other books to be discussed in the series: Tuesday, Oct. 18, “Like Lesser Gods” by Mari Tomasi; Tuesday, Nov. 15, “All Souls: A Family Story from Southie” by Michael Patrick MacDonald; and finally on Tuesday, Dec. 6, “The Wooden Nickel” by William Carpenter.
The theme of this series will bring the reader beyond the stereotypical view of New England as a place with neat houses clustered picturesquely around a village green or a town dominated by a white, steepled church set against rolling hills with inhabitants of Anglo-Saxon stock, taciturn, frugal and hardworking, the typical staunch Yankee character. This traditional view of New England and New Englanders includes much that is factual — aspects of it can be seen by anyone who lives or travels in the region today.
But what this picture leaves out is perhaps even more revealing than what it includes. For example, it suggests a homogeneous community, not the polyglot and religiously diverse population created by successive waves of immigration from continental Europe and Ireland. In fact, New England in the late 19th century had the most ethnically diverse population in the country. And the pastoral image belies the extensive industrialization of the Northeast with its accompanying periods of growth and decline and social disruption that this created.
How did this gap between perception and reality come about? This is the main theme that will be explored in this series. The novels that make up this series take us into this more complicated and richer reality and offer parts of the story that are often missing from the narrative of the New England created by Hawthorne, Melville, Alcott, Jewett, White or Frost. Even though these authors’ New England definitely had its dark side, it is a determinedly white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant New England. This series brings us accounts of Catholic immigrants — Irish, Italian and French Canadian —- of transplanted black Southerners and of Mainers scrambling to put together a living in a poor coastal community. Taken together, however, this series may serve to remind us that the richly textured population of New England constitutes the real New England.
The series discussions will be facilitated by Jeffrey B. Aronson, a scholar provided by the Maine Humanities Council. Aronson is a historian who has taken his passion into several fields. For 17 years he served as an administrator and faculty member in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Vermont. Since 1986 Aronson has led more than 1,000 discussion programs in colleges, public libraries, family literacy organizations, adult education centers and historical societies in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. His historical and literary interests have been central to his participation in these programs. Several have been awarded grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Maine Humanities Council.
Books for this series are available for loan at the library after Aug. 18. Pre-registration is required to ensure that enough copies of the books are available. Stop by the main circulation desk or call the library at 338-3884 ext. 10 to register. For more information about “Let’s Talk About It” and the work of the Maine Humanities Council, see www.mainehumanities.org.