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December 9, 2021: The Bright Lights Book Project: Build it and They Will Come

“Build it and he will come,” is the catch phrase in W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe. The story line is this: A voice says to Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella "If you build it, he will come." Kinsella is further told to build a baseball field in his cornfield, so that the ghosts of Shoeless Joe Jackson and seven other Chicago White Sox baseball players might have a playing field. All were banned from the game after allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series.

Books headed to Bethel at the Northern Air Freight Terminal

A variation of Kinsella’s phrase came to mind when I, the self-appointed Bright Lights Book Project (BLBP) Outreach Coordinator, began salvaging books locally. It was “build it and they will come, they being appreciative readers. As the BLBP volunteer staff gathered together in the Turkey Red Restaurant banquet room for the first annual Palmer Festival of the Books, I realized that for the past two years we’ve been working together to create a literary field of dreams, that is one in which the words “literacy,” “community” and “good will” are synonymous terms.

The day of the festival it was -10 F. Nevertheless, numerous local curious readers browsed the free books and listened as the BLBP staff read from their own and other authors’ published works.

The first reader was BLBP Salvaging and Distribution Manager Bill Schmidtkunz. The owner of Matanuska Woodworks also built the bookcases in The Valley Hotel lobby and the Vagabond Blues hallway. The Poet Laureate of Sutton read several poems. This included “Laura” which received second place in the 2021 Alaska Daily News Creative Writing Contest.

Sheila Aay, a BLBP book cleaner and categorizer, stepped to the front of the room after Bill departed. Sheila, who has a Master’s Degree in Literature literally donned many hats, in making her point that when selecting a book, there are many genres to choose from.

Maryanne Corkle, the proprietor of Palmer-based Fireside Books, next read excerpts from Helene Hanff’s, 84 Charing Cross Road, a compilation of twenty years of correspondences between a discriminating book reader and a bookstore owner.

Bea Adler is the BLBP Editor, a task in which she draws upon her many years of teaching grant writing at Mat-Su College and writing proposals for numerous local organizations including the Mat-Su Borough and The Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry. Bea read selected passages from Merle’s Door, Lessons from a Freethinking Dog, memoir written by Ted Kerasote which describes how bringing a stray dog into his life taught him more than he expected.

At half-time Milena Sevigny, the Community Relations Coordinator for TOTE Maritime and I spoke about the benefits of working partnerships. (Sevigny coordinates with First Wave Books and sends children’s books to Alaska villages). I noted that since last fall, we’ve been dealing with the logistical tasks inherent to book schlepping and organizational planning.

Palmer resident Lois Liebing also cleans and categorizes Children’s books. The former elementary school teacher read two childrens’ books to a receptive audience; the first was entitled “There Was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Book,” and the second, “Little Bear.”

The next reader was Nan Potts, who as the BLBP Circulation Manager, makes sure that all project tasks are done in an efficient fashion. Nan salvages, cleans, categorizes, and distributes books and as well, on occasion lends her editorial expertise to this project. In addition, Nan designed the new Bright Lights logo. Nan read excerpts from several dog books, including Ned Rozell’s Walking my Dog, Jane.

Cam Potts, Nan’s husband, read to us from American Aviator Ernest K. Gaan’s Fate is the Hunter. For many years Potts worked as a cargo pilot for UPS. These days, he flies vicariously.

Hillary Saffran, a local writer, stage entertainer, and actress read the children’s book, The Christmas Armadillo. The late afternoon crowd remained enthralled as she told the armadillo’s story in a spirited fashion, putting us all in the holiday spirit.

 Pete Praetorius, the BLBP Jack of All Trades did not do a reading or give a presentation. This was because he spent his day over at the VCRS Recycling Center, salvaging additional books.

The high points of the day’s presentations were duly noted by Daily Buzz Feed Reporter Barbara Hunt and Frontiersman Reporter Jacob Mann.

As at the day’s end, as staff was consolidating books in boxes, the phrase “build it and they will come,” returned to mind along with the thought that the BLBP now consists of a dedicated cadre of hardworking volunteers, all of whom have embraced the adage “reduce, recycle, reuse, read.” As such, our wish list now includes more bookcases, a larger temporary storage facility, and land for a portable shelter to be built by the students at the Mat-Su Career and Tech High School. And in time, we hope to acquire a bookmobile, so that we can take our books and festival performance on the road.

341. 12/10/21: Heart of Darkness

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