Community to unite by book

County Library partners with college to host discussion series focusing on veterans

By Cody McFarland, Associate Editor

A federally funded, community-wide reading program is set to begin at Contra Costa College on April 10.

A two-month-long series of scheduled events will take students and West County residents alike on a literary journey into the minds of war veterans with group book discussions, panel speakers, live readings, workshops and more, revolving around Tim O’Brien’s acclaimed book on the Vietnam War, “The Things They Carried.”

“The idea behind the Big Read is to try and get a whole community to read one book and open up discourse about it,” Library department Chairperson Judith Flum said. “We’re hoping to get students, faculty, staff and members of the community all together and talking.”

English assistant professor Heather Roth is helping coordinate the program and wrote up an informational packet for faculty on what exactly implementing a Big Read at CCC would entail.

Though Roth was unavailable as of press time Tuesday, according to the informational packet, the Big Read acts “as a way to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the conclusion of the Vietnam War and to honor the community members who settled in Contra Costa County as a consequence of that war.”

All programs are free and open to the public. Flum and Roth are also seeking volunteers to help facilitate all of the events.

The Big Read begins April 10 in the Knox Center from 7-9:30 p.m. with a staged reading of “The Things They Carried” performed by the Word for Word Performing Arts Company.

Tickets are not required. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and seating will be on a first-come-first-served basis, Flum said.

Ian Richards, senior community library manager of West County Library, said, “The live reading at the kickoff event will be very interesting. The staged reading will have a lot of power.”

Consecutive Big Read events are scheduled through May 28; however, CCC’s on-campus events conclude May 5 with a discussion led by adjunct English professor and Vietnam-era veteran Michael Hassett, titled “Vietnam: Childhood’s End,” in L-107 at 4 p.m.

Hassett said he agreed to participate in discussions for sake of “solidarity with other veterans.” He is interested in interacting with other veterans and talking about their shared plight, having experienced the hardships of war.

He said the issues facing Vietnam-era veterans are the same that modern day veterans returning from the Middle East are confronted with.

“Hopefully it opens up a dialogue between old and young veterans,” he said.

The federal grant for the Big Read comes from the National Endowment for the Arts and was awarded to the West Contra Costa County Library, who in turn partnered with CCC for its accommodating Library and Learning Resource Center.

Richards said it was a “natural partnership” and that the County Library has partnered with CCC in the past.

“We are one of 77 participating libraries to receive the Big Read grant this year,” he said.

For more information or to volunteer to assist the program, contact Flum or Roth at jflum@contracosta.edu or hroth@contracosta.edu, respectively.