Friday, February 18, 2011

An Evening at the Library with Michael Perry

All week people have been coming to the reference desk to tell me how much they enjoyed last Friday's Evening with Michael Perry, a program sponsored by the Western Springs Library Friends. Even at the Morton Arboretum on Tuesday morning, I chanced upon one of the 63 people who attended the library program. Recognizing me, she said, "I really enjoyed Friday night!" It's unanimous. I did, too.

In case you don't know, Michael Perry is the author of a series of memoirs depicting his everyday life in a rural Wisconsin, starting with Population: 485. He describes himself as an incredibly lucky man to be part of such community with family and friends that he has known his entire life. It is not that he has never left. Population: 485 is a "coming home story," according to Perry. "Just one of many [such books]" he humbled said. Maybe, but his book stands out for its eloquence and sympathetic descriptions. In telling about his driving ambulances and fighting fires with his brothers and mother in the volunteer fire department, he conveys how we all have a duty to get past our differences to be good neighbors.

"Belonging" was a theme of the evening. Just as Perry appreciated being part of a community and being accepted by ours for the evening, he writes books that belong among other books. Just as he called Population: 485, a "coming home story," he followed with Truck: A Love Story, which he said is also a gardening book. When asked whether the love was for a woman or for the old truck, he replied that his heart was big enough for both. His latest book Coop could be called a "back to the farm" book, but it is much more. I wonder what's next. Actually, he did tell us he is writing two more books, one of which is for young adults, but I can't quite remember their plots.

Perry told stories about and read from each of his books, including the collection of essays Off Main Street. We mostly laughed as he pointed to the humor in situations, such as having kidney stones, but he also was serious about family and responsibility. And as the son of parents who have fostered many children, he defined family in a broader way than most of us would. I think we all left the room with bigger hearts.

Perry said that he enjoys speaking in libraries, and I believe him. He spent a long evening with us, signing books and talking to everyone who waited. I recommend him to libraries far and wide.

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