“One for the Books” is a Tradition for John Jermain Library

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John Jermain Memorial Library Sag Harbor
The John Jermain Memorial Library in Sag Harbor. Michael Heller photo

The John Jermain Memorial Library “One for the Books” gatherings may predate director Catherine Creedon by just one year — started in 2006 by then-board member Susan Merrell — but by the time she arrived, they had already become tradition.

“[Susan] always referred to the gatherings as ‘fun-raising’ events, as they raised monies for the library, but also gave people a chance to get together in celebration of community and literature,” Creedon said. “Community leader Gail Slevin organized and ran these events from 2008 through 2013. We did not have an event in 2014, the year she passed away.”

Now chaired by Judi Caron, this weekend’s series of seven individual gatherings will vary from home to home, but generally open with a mix-and-mingle cocktail party, followed by a talk by the guest author or speaker.

“I have tried to attend multiple events each year, and although I haven’t heard everyone who has spoken, there have been many instances when an author’s remarks have brought me to the edge of tears,” Creedon said. “In particular, I remember E. L. Doctorow and Meg Wolitzer’s comments about the role of public libraries in shaping the world.”

Proceeds from each gathering will benefit the library’s community programming, she said, though over the history of these events, more than $30,000 has supported the historic renovation and expansion of its Main Street, Sag Harbor home — “a real testament to the power of what a community can do,” she said.

Leading up to the gatherings — which will be held on Friday and Saturday evenings — the featured speakers caught up with the Sag Harbor Express, talking all things books and dishing on what they’ll bring to each table.

Amy Hempel. Vicki Topaz photo

Amy Hempel

Hosted by Lou Ann Walker

Author of four short story collections, a Guggenheim Fellow, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a founding board member of the Deja Foundation, which offers direct assistance to dogs rescued from high-kill shelters in an effort to empower small rescue organizations to support sustainable adoptions.

The Sag Harbor Express: Why have you decided to discuss the short-short story at your gathering?

Hempel:It’s a form I particularly like toread and write, it can create different effects than a traditional story, and I like its affinity with certainprose poems. They can be image-driven, language-driven, they can be parables or snapshot moments.I like the challenge of making a reader feel something in such a short space!

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Hempel: I would not single out just one favorite book. I have favorite sentences, though, from countless works, and I set a course by them.

What are you reading right now? 

I’m currently reading more memoirs than fiction, including a terrific one that is coming out this July, “Godspeed” by the amazing Casey Legler.

What are you most looking forward to this summer? 

This summer I’m looking forward to fostering more dogs rescued from kill shelters until they get permanent homes.

Melissa Bank

Melissa Bank

Hosted by Sally Susman and Robin Canter

Author of the best-selling story collections “The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing” and “The Wonder Spot.” Recipient of the Nelson Algren Award for short fiction from the Chicago Tribune and currently teaches at the MFA program at Stony Brook Southampton. Her work has been translated into 33 languages.

Why did you choose “Olive Kitteridge” by Elizabeth Strough for your gathering?

Bank: It’s one of my favorite books of all time. The characters are so real to me I worry about them and the writing is so good you don’t notice it. Plus, it makes me want to write.

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Bank: I can never answer this question, but a few books that are always on the list are “Anna Karenina,” “The Woman in White” (Wilkie Collins) and “Beware of Pity” (Stefan Zweig).

Do you have a favorite moment from the library? Or what do you enjoy about the library overall?

Bank: I look for books the way I did as a child — just going through the shelves and picking books at random, reading a few pages. I could spend my whole life doing this. Actually, I have spent my whole life doing this.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished “The Friend” by Sigrid Nunez (which was great) and am about to start “Educated” by Tara Westover.

Why do you think people should come to your gathering?

It’s going to be a lot of fun— just a bunch of readers, so we’ll all be socially awkward.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Reading on the beach.

David Friend

David Friend 

Hosted by Amy Wickersham, with Lizzy and David Florence

Editor at Vanity Fair, a journalist, curator and Emmy Award-winning producer of the CBS documentary “9/11.” Former director of photography at Life magazine.

Why did you choose your book, “The Naughty Nineties: The Triumph of the American Libido” for your gathering?

Friend: I am old friends with the hosts, the Wickershams, and their neighbor Jackie Hilly. I think they chose my new book because it speaks to Boomers, Gen-X-ers, and Millennials — and it’s a lot of fun.

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Friend: My favorite book is Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” It interweaves brilliantly conceived characters, astute analysis of human behavior, and probing philosophical questions all set against the backdrop of a riveting narrative.

What are you reading right now?

Friend: I am reading Saul Bellow’s “Herzog” and a new poetry collection, “Brown,” by Kevin Young.

Why do you think people should come to your gathering?

Friend: The book explains — and we’ll be discussing — how Anita Hill laid the groundwork for the #MeToo movement; the various personalities I interviewed for the book (Michael Douglas, Joan Rivers, Heidi Fleiss, Lorena Bobbitt, Jesse Jackson, Alan Cumming, Monica Lewinsky, etc); and why the birth, in the 1990s, of the web, Fox News, reality TV, tabloid TV, political oppo research and spin control, the mainstreaming of porn, and a general fixation on scandal, set us on a trajectory from Bill Clinton to Donald Trump.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Rose on the bay in Lonelyville, Fire Island.

April Gornik

April Gornik

Hosted by Susan Edwards and Ian Ziskin

Artist, environmentalist and community activist/organizer, and vice-president of the Sag Harbor Partnership, which is acting as a fiscal sponsor for the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center. Board member of the Eastville Community Historical Society and Save Sag Harbor who believes in the power of art and culture to unite and move a community forward.

Why did you choose “Leaving the Atocha Station” by Ben Lerner for your gathering?

Gornik: I was looking for a smart and funny book and it is that and so much more. It’s also about the creative process, and the process of becoming a fully developed creative person.

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Gornik: No really not, although I’d cite “Moby Dick” for its extraordinary humanism, “Out of Sheer Rage” by Geoff Dyer for also being smart, funny and poignant, “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen, “Arctic Dreams” by Barry Lopez for its grasp of the world and its creatures outside ourselves, “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy for the same reason, “H is for Hawk” by Helen MacDonald for showing our troubled relation to wildness, “Housekeeping” by Marilynne Robinson for showing what wildness in us is… You can see I can’t choose!

Do you have a favorite moment from the library?

Gornik: I had the great pleasure of looking at some of the historic treasures there at the library with Cathy Creedon while researching the Partnership’s “Sag Harbor Walking Tours,” and also hearing one of my other favorite authors, George Saunders, speak there last summer.

What are you reading right now?

Gornik: I’m reading Joan — JZ — Holden’s book “Illusion of Memory.” Just before that, I read “Sing, Unburied, Sing” by Jesmyn Ward and “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee, all of which I recommend.

Why do you think people should come to your gathering?

Gornik: I love books and I love to talk about them! We should have a very fun conversation about creativity, honesty, and growing into your artistic self.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Gornik: Working in my studio as much as I can.

Susan Lacy

Susan Lacy

Hosted by Bob Weinstein and Eric Hensley, with Ellen and Craig Rhodes

Creator and former executive producer of the PBS “American Masters” series, credited with directing or producing more than 215 documentary films that explore the lives of America’s most enduring cultural icons. Founder of Pentimento Productions, where she recently completed films on the lives of Steven Spielberg and Jane Fonda.

Why have you decided to discuss Spielberg and Fonda as cultural icons, through the lens of documentary film, at your gathering?

Lacy: Although at most of these gatherings, the guest speakers are asked to speak about books they love or books they have written, I was asked to speak about two recent films I have directed for HBO. One, “Spielberg,” has aired and the other, on “Jane Fonda,” will air on HBO in September.

The Spielberg film premiered at the NY Film Festival last October and screened also at the Hamptons Film Festival and the Hamptons Take Two Festival. The Fonda film, which premiered at Sundance in January, will have a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival in mid-May and will have a special HIFF screening on September 22 before airing on HBO.

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Lacy: I have been an avid reader all my life. If you had asked me my favorite book when I was a girl, it would have been “Wuthering Heights.” Now, I have too many books to choose from. The book that had the greatest impact on me in the last five years was “The Hare with Amber Eyes,” which tells the story of an Austrian Jewish family destroyed by the Nazis, but who left behind a collection of ivory Japanese figurines. The book chronicles the history of that family — a family richer than the Rothschilds — and how it came to be that that is all that was left. It is fascinating and moving and evokes that era as well as any book I have read on the subject.

It is also beautifully and poetically written by the family member who inherited the figurines. I am the daughter of someone who left Germany in the late ’30s to escape the Nazis, so the book had special resonance for me.

What are you reading right now?

Lacy: I am currently reading the Grant biography by Ron Chernow. It is great.

Why do you think people should come to your gathering?

Lacy: I hope people come to the gathering on May 5 out of support for one of the treasures of Sag Harbor — our library — and to support the importance of books and reading. We are in danger of developing an increasingly uneducated populace and we can already see the tragic results of that in our current political situation.

Anything we can do to support education and education-related activities is one of the most important things we can do today.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

Lacy: I am most looking forward to spending time with my family at the end of August. I now have four grandchildren, so family time has taken on ever deepening meanings.

I am a board member of both the Sag Harbor Partnership and the Sag Harbor Cinema Arts Center, so our summer will be very busy fundraising for Phase 2 — the building and initial programming of the cinema. We are putting together a summer film series on Sunday nights at Pierson High School — films chosen by local artists, followed by Q&As with the artists to explain what the film they chose means to them. I am looking forward to that series and to all the many events we will be putting together to raise funds for the cinema.

Properly programmed and promoted, cinema can add incredible educational dimensions to knowledge, open doors to other worlds and increase our historical and visual literacy. I am an education nut, which leads me to the importance of these library fundraisers.

Jim and Kate McMullan

Kate and Jim McMullan

Hosted by Louise and Aidan Corish

Each equally known for their individual contributions to art and literature, they are the author/illustrator team behind the picture book series, “I STNK!,” transformed into the Amazon animated series, “The Stinky and Dirty Show.”

Book Selection: “Leaving China” by James McMullan

Why did you choose your book, “Leaving China,” for your gathering?

James McMullan: Although the book was published in 2014, it continues to elicit strong responses from readers who have discovered it since then. An exhibit of the original paintings has been moving around the country, which may be one reason the interest keeps going. Kate seems to find new things coming out of the book to comment on so she is going to introduce me at the reading. Who knows what she will say.

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

McMullan: “Maiden Voyage” by Denton Welch combined a coming-of-age story with a trip to China in a compellingly personal voice, which has stuck with me for 20 years.

Do you have a favorite moment from the library? Or what do you enjoy about the library overall?

McMullan: Our Thursday “Sunset Club” gatherings at Long Beach in which we have gotten to know all the people most heavily involved with the Library have, in a curious way, been my fondest memory of the library, and also spending time with Catherine Creedon and Scott.

What are you reading right now?

McMullan: “Essays” by Martin Amis, extraordinarily smart and funny in that snarky English way.

Why do you think people should come to your gathering?

McMullan: To test me as to whether I have anything else to reveal about “Leaving China.”

What are you most looking forward to this summer?

McMullan: Playing tennis outdoors. 

Jennet Conant

Jennet Conant

Hosted by Amanda and Vic Cain with Roxanne Taylor, and Jim Fox and Martin Rapp

Author and contributor to Vanity Fair, Esquire, GQ, Newsweek and The New York Times who splits her time between Manhattan and Sag Harbor.

Why did you choose your book, “Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist,” for your gathering? 

Conant: My hosts, Amanda and Victor Cain, asked if I would be willing to speak about my latest book, “Man of the Hour: James B. Conant, Warrior Scientist,” at their gathering for the library.

As I love our wonderful new library, I was happy to do it. They also asked if it would be possible to discuss two of my previous WWII books, “Tuxedo Park” and “109 East Palace,” as they are also about secret weapons projects and feature many of the same characters, including FDR, Henry Stimson, Robert Oppenheimer, Earnest Lawrence and Enrico Fermi, and other scientists who were my grandfather’s Manhattan Project colleagues. So we will be talking about all three books and recurring themes in my work.

What are you reading right now?

Conant: Right now I am reading an amazing book about the crazy, complicated business of being human called “The Gene: An Intimate History” by Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Do you have a favorite book of all time?

Conant: I couldn’t possibly pick just one book as my all-time favorite, there are too many that I love and cherish and always keep near to hand. Among my top picks would be “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, “The Quiet American” by Graham Greene, and “Burger’s Daughter” by Nadine Gordimer. They are very different novels but in all three, the personal is inescapably political, and innocence can blunder into tragedy — ideas that spoke to me powerfully when I was young and still do.

Do you have a favorite moment from the library?

Conant: I love the library! It is my rainy day retreat, my quiet oasis, especially in the hustle and bustle of summer. I can nip in for a book and get lost for hours. It is such a lovely space, and to be able to curl up and read while looking at beautiful artwork by local artists like Dan Rizzie makes me feel incredibly lucky to live in Sag Harbor.

What are you most looking forward to this summer? 

Conant: The best thing about summer to me are the long, light, warm days spent outside — time for tennis, mucking about in the garden, writing on the porch, leisurely walks on the beach with my dogs, and dinner under the stars.

Each “One for the Books” gathering will be held on Saturday, May 5, from 6 to 8 p.m., with the exception of Amy Hempel, which will meet on Friday, May 4, from 6 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $100. For more information, please call (631) 725-0049 or visit johnjermain.org.

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