Today’s guest writer, Karen B. Golightly, is one of the Memphis Reads community book club founders. In its first year, Memphis Reads, which launched on October 1, is a month-long, city-wide book club designed to promote literacy and unity throughout our great city. Here she shares this year’s book choice, The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, by Dinaw Mengestu, and two related events at which Mengestu will be present.
Read a great book lately? Did you get to meet the writer personally? Have you found a book that not only kept you engaged, but moved you, got you talking to your friends and neighbors about it, or that made you push it on your family to read, consider and share with their friends?
Memphis Reads is a community-read program, sponsored this year by the Memphis Public Library and Information Center and Christian Brothers University in cooperation with the Memphis Mayor’s Office. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu is the 2014 featured read, and participating in the program is easy: The city reads the book, and then the author comes to Memphis to talk about the book.
But the results are more far-reaching than simply reading and discussing the book. Participants delve into the greater issues that are raised in the book. Mengestu’s main character is an Ethiopian immigrant living in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood, which is becoming gentrified right before his eyes. Convenience store owner Sepha Stephanos interacts daily with those who have moved in, as well as the manual laborers who are prepping houses for the professionals who are reclaiming this once-forgotten neighborhood. Stephanos, who longs for human interaction and a sense of belonging, is caught between his native Africa and this new life in the United States.
In much the same way, Memphians, as transplants and immigrants, are often caught between suburbs and the city, between our hometowns and our new jobs, new schools, new friends. We gather our families, drive or bus our children to their schools, then, in our own separate cars, we drive ourselves to work, all the time wondering what the story is behind the person in the car next to us. What seem like barricades that divide us are a lack of understanding for the unencountered. We are separated by geography, history, religion, family, work, transportation, schools and The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Communities are created in small steps. Coming together with one book for one city can break down those walls, so that we can begin to understand a neighbor we may have never known existed. Here’s one way to link to a fellow Memphian: Read The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Tell a friend. Or tell a stranger about the book. Then come hear Mengestu’s experience of his own alienation.
Thank you, Karen!
Dinaw Mengestu will give two talks in Memphis on Tuesday, November 4, 2014: one at the library at 5:30 p.m., and another at CBU’s University Theater at 8 p.m. Grab your copy of the book, and we’ll see you there!
Karen B. Golightly, Ph.D., is an associate professor of English and Director of Fresh Reads at Christian Brothers University. She heads up the Memphis Reads program, the city’s first community-wide book club. Karen is pictured here with her copy of The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears. Join Karen and Memphis Reads in building community one book at a time!
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