By Annette Hinkle
As fall begins, the John Jermain Memorial Library enters the final leg of a massive multi-year renovation and reconstruction project. By mid-winter the library is expected to move out of its temporary space on West Water Street and back into its permanent Main Street home.
It will be a home that is up to code, expanded and ready to serve Sag Harbor in the 21st century. A tour of the site with JJML’s director Catherine Creedon reveals not only a meticulous restoration of the original 1910 building, but also a light filled addition with windows offering a view of the old John Jermain Library that literally and figuratively embrace the future without rejecting the past.
“A 21st century library is not only vibrant, but it’s as important as it has been historically,” says Ms. Creedon as she dons her hard hat and points out upgrades, new amenities and restored features throughout the space. “The old building is front and center, while the new addition reflects back on the old building.”
It’s an appropriate analogy given all that’s happened, not only in the course of the library’s long renovation process, but with the drastic changes many see occurring within Sag Harbor’s borders right now.
Which is why this year’s annual One for the Books strikes a particular chord.
One for the Books is a series of festive cocktail parties held at private homes throughout the Sag Harbor area to benefit the JJML capital campaign. The homeowner selects the book and theme for the evening and guests pick the party they’d like to attend based on the titles that interest them.
After taking a hiatus last year due to the death of Gail Slevin, steward of the event since 2008, One for the Books is back for its ninth incarnation. This year, a dozen or so parties will be held over two weekends (October 10 — the library’s 105th birthday — and October 17). Among them are two books by Sag Harbor authors who have been closely involved in the library’s long road to renovation and renewal — Susan Scarf Merrell, who joined the library’s board in 2006, and Alexandra Eames, a member of the community library committee whose job was to weigh renovation vs. relocation options when the future of the old library was still unclear.
Those who lament what Sag Harbor has become in recent years will enjoy “Oh, That’s Another Story,” a book which Ms. Eames co-authored with Whitney Hansen and will be the focus of a One for the Books party at Ms. Hansen’s village home on October 10.
“Oh, That’s Another Story” takes readers back to Sag Harbor circa 1930s to 1970s through recollections of the village’s oldest residents. People interviewed by Ms. Eames and Ms. Hansen shared stories of a simpler life and the book revisits the various village neighborhoods, long gone shops and businesses (including the Bulova factory which is now luxury condos), and social clubs, among other subjects. The title? That comes from the response interview subjects frequently offered when Ms. Eames and Ms. Hansen asked for details on an unpleasant or scandalous event in the village.
“We really wanted people’s memories and perceptions of what was going on then,” says Ms. Eames. “The real meat of the book are stories that are personal memories.”
“We started this project around five years ago and since then a lot of the people we interviewed have died,” adds Ms. Hansen. “Each one was so individual, poignant and interesting. They talked very candidly and openly about personal memories.”
Since 1965, Ms. Hansen, an artist, has painted Sag Harbor scenes and many of her woodcut paintings were used to illustrate the book. Several offer views that no longer exist — like the big blue gas ball — while others were created from photographs which interview subjects provided as reference material, like a group of kids gathered in front of the former H. Klein’s store at the corner of Jermain and Madison.
“For me, going around and painting I find that most of the buildings are still here,” says Ms. Hansen. “But in the last six to eight months we have lost some treasures, like the bottle house.”
While not set in Sag Harbor, Susan Scarf Merrell’s latest novel, “Shirley,” does deal with relationships in small town America in the middle of the 20th century and it will be the focus of a One for the Books party at Jeff and Mala Sanders’ North Haven home on October 17. In “Shirley,” Ms. Merrell examines the complicated and contentious relationship between writer Shirley Jackson and her professor/literary critic husband Edgar Hyman as seen through the eyes of a fictional young couple who come to live with them in their Bennington, Vermont home.
“I went to school at Bennington, where they had taught,” explains Ms. Merrell. “I started reading [Jackson] and became beyond obsessed. I started feeling like every time I turned around another piece of information about her would get thrown in my lap.”
“In my book, I walk this odd line between what I wanted to show about their marriage and marriage in general — this idea that you’re with a person and committed, but life is long and complicated and you weather things that make you better and stronger as a couple,” she adds. “From early on in doing research I had this belief they might not have looked to the world as the happiest couple. But they gave remarkable support to each other as humans and artists.”
When Ms. Merrell joins the Sanders at their home to talk about “Shirley,” she will know the drill well. That’s because Ms. Merrell devised the One for the Books premise not long after taking her seat on the library board in 2006.
“I really wanted to do fundraising and came up with this idea of having a meal with people who liked the same book as you, but you didn’t know where you were going so it would be a surprise dinner,” explains Ms. Merrell. “It was the idea of doing something where the community wasn’t just asked to give money, but participate in the life of the library.”
Over the years, the result has been many great conversations, several new (or renewed) friendships and always a fun night out. In order to accommodate more guests, hosts now serve cocktails, not dinner, and the location is no longer a secret. But the conversations and the company are just as lively — and more often than not, the books are by local authors.
“In the early days, there were many more older books, classic books, or books where the author couldn’t possibly show up,” says Ms. Merrell. “Now it’s much more about serving the creative community here.”
“You also find connections you don’t know are there,” she adds. “It’s a great treat.”
One for the Books is Saturday, October 10 and Saturday, October 17. All parties are from 6 to 8 p.m. Tickets are $100. To select one of the book parties, visit johnjermain.org or call (631) 725-0049.