By Samantha Stryker, Richmond Memorial Library Community & Adult Services librarian
On the evening of Thursday, Sept. 26, the Reading Room at Richmond Memorial Library was filled nearly to capacity for the inaugural Richmond Reads author visit.
The purpose of the Richmond Reads one-book program was to bring the community together through the common experience of reading a book, engaging in thoughtful discussions about it, and hosting a visit from the author.
This year’s selection was the novel "Southernmost" by Silas House, who visited the library that evening to share a reading, give a talk and, as he put it, “have a conversation” with the audience.
The Richmond Reads program began months prior, when the book selection was announced in February. Many related events followed, including a contest during Summer Reading for a chance to win attendance to a tea with the author, a Joni Mitchell tribute concert by artist Leah Zicari to celebrate the musical influences in "Southernmost," a film screening of the documentary "Hillbilly" and community book discussions.
As homage to the Tale for Three Counties program, the Richmond Reads committee also decided to revive the review contest that had been a hallmark of Tale. Four winners were selected to attend a small tea event with the author for a chance to interact one-on-one prior to the main event.
Reviews were judged anonymously by the Richmond Reads committee for creativity, originality and writing quality. The four contest winners chosen were Ruth Andes, Sue Blanchard, Laurie Mastin and Rita Nan Tresco. Excerpts from their review are included below.
Ruth Andes (Elba):
"Southernmost requires each of us to look back at pivotal points in our lives. We confront the beliefs we hold and realize that they no longer fit the person we have become. The two gay men forced Asher to take that public stand. Once confronted, we cannot go forward in the life we have constructed. Change is required and often that change is radical.”
Sue Blanchard (Lockport):
“While reading this story, you can’t help but put yourself in the same set of circumstances and examine your own prejudices, values, morals, and beliefs. Not only was the book a well written story, but it challenged my thinking. I admire Asher for standing up for what he believed was right, despite the negative impacts, and, in the end I believe he made the right decision. Southernmost illustrates the struggle that judgement and hatred cause – Asher was judged by his community, and he judged his brother - both situations caused emotional turmoil. Tolerance is indeed a hard quality to embrace.”
Laurie Mastin (Pavilion):
“ 'Brainwashed: persuaded, convinced, indoctrinated, molded.' (courtesy-- Thesaurus: English (U.S.))
The term was only used twice in this book but it struck me as a central theme. Aren’t we all brainwashed by the experiences we’ve had and the people we are surrounded by?
"Reading this novel was thought provoking at a time when our country is being divided by extremely different points of views on many of these issues. It’s time to reconsider our past brainwashing, and use critical thinking to reach common ground.”
Rita Nan Tresco (Batavia):
“To flee with his son Justin is the only option Asher Sharp, a small Tennessee preacher feels he has after examining his conscience and finding his voice to speak to his congregation, on the topic of tolerance and human kindness. Preacher Sharp loses everything; his wife, family, and congregation and is also shunned by his community. With little access to the son he loves above all else, he sees no way out but to run…Along the way, as the story unfolds, we find our author, Silas House, weaving his words to be like a musical river of honey with many bends, twists and turns. The lovely conclusion has a beautiful message of learning to care for others through kindness, finding forgiveness in your heart, and being tolerant and respectful of each other. But mostly this lovely story is about finding the voice and the courage to love all of humanity.”
The Inaugural Richmond Reads Event
During his talk Sept. 26, Silas spoke to the themes in the book as they related to his personal experiences, ranging from his own journey as a father to his experience growing up in the evangelical church. He read passages from the text, particularly those that spoke to his theory that dogs are symbolic of “the presence of the divine.” Indeed, throughout the book, we see the pivotal part that dogs play as a metaphor for the lost and found faith of the main characters.
During an interactive discussion with participants, House graciously answered questions ranging from “what are you working on now?” (he said he has many “pots on the stove,” or projects, all at once -- one of which is a novel about a man and dog traveling across Ireland, set in the near future) to “what are you reading now?” ("Whiskey When We’re Dry" by John Larison, which he highly recommended, along with "Women Talking" by Miriam Toews) and answered many questions about his themes and characterizations in the novel.
The only question he declined to answer (to avoid spoilers) was what he thought happened to his main character, Asher, after the end of the book. He did note, however, that he likes to end his books with hope, which was certainly the case with "Southernmost."
After his talk, House signed books and interacted even more with attendees, sharing his open and generous spirit. He was warmly received, with one attendee showing him true Western New York hospitality by gifting him with some heirloom tomatoes to take home!
Making it Possible
This project would not have been possible without the hard work and dedication of the Richmond Reads Planning Committee, comprised of Sue Briggs, Sue Chiddy, Leslie DeLooze, Irene Hickey, Frances McNulty and Judy Sikora. Thanks also to Lift Bridge Book Shop, of Brockport, for selling books at the event.
Richmond Reads was sponsored by The Friends of Richmond Memorial Library, as well as through a grant through GO ART!
This project was also made possible with funds from the Decentralization Program, a regrant program of the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature and administered by GO ART!
Richmond Memorial Library continually provides access to physical and virtual resources and services that meet the educational, informational and recreational needs of its diverse community in a safe and comfortable environment.
Richmond Memorial Library is located at 19 Ross St. in the City of Batavia.
About Silas House
Hailing from Kentucky, Silas House is the best-selling author of six novels, three plays, and a book of creative nonfiction. He is a former commentator for NPR’s “All Things Considered,” is the recipient of three honorary doctorates and has won numerous prestigious awards for his work. "Southernmost" in particular was long-listed for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction and was honored with many more awards.
House recently produced, wrote, and was featured in the documentary "Hillbilly," which examined the myths and stereotypes of Appalachia, historically and in the context of the 2016 election season. "Hillbilly" was chosen as the winner of the Best Documentary at the L.A. Film Festival and was long-listed for an Academy Award.
Silas currently lives in Lexington, Ky., with his husband, Jason, and has two children.
Top photo: The Richmond Reads Planning Committee pictured with author Silas House. Back row, from left: Irene Hickey, Sue Briggs, Sue Chiddy, Judy Sikora and Leslie DeLooze. Seated: Samantha Stryker, Community & Adult Services lbrarian and Richmond Reads coordinator, and Author Silas House. (Not pictured: Frances McNulty) (Photo credit: Jim DeLooze)
Photo below: Author Silas House speaks to a packed room at Richmond Memorial Library for the inaugural Richmond Reads Program. (Photo credit: Jim DeLooze)
Below: Summer Reading and Review Contest winners attend a small one-on-one event at GO ART! with the author ahead of the main event.
Below: Author Silas House signs books following his talk for the 2019 Richmond Reads Program. (Photo credit: Jim DeLooze)