The 20th annual Palmer Trinity Book Fair earlier this month featured the celebrated author and National Public Radio book reviewer Alan Cheuse. The Palmer Book Fair is well known not only because of the authors that speak at the brunch, but because of the incredible themed tables. This year’s table themes ranged from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and On the Beachto Putting on the Ritz. One table featured peacocks, prompting the head of school Sean Murphy to quip in his welcome speech that “no peacocks were harmed in the preparation of this brunch.”
Murphy told the gathering that while the tables were fabulous, the Book Fair has become special over the years because of the books presented and the people who attend.
“There is an abiding love for books,” he said.
That love of books and an innovative summer reading list convinced Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books and Books, to send his twin sons to Palmer. Kaplan promised to stay involved even though his sons are graduating.
“This school distinguishes itself,” he said.
The theme of the love of books was continued when Cheuse spoke. Cheuse has reviewed books on NPR for more than two decades and is a respected writer. He has written five novels, many short stories and a memoir. His latest novel is Song of the Slaves in the Desert, which delves into the world of southern slavery. Interestingly, by the time he finished the book, he was a grandfather to a child adopted from Ethiopia.
“Books are everything to writers,” Cheuse said. “We hope they are everything to readers.”
He spoke about a writer who sent his grandmother his first book after it was published. The grandmother was quite religious and when she received the book, she sent him a note of thanks, but told him, “I have the books I need – the Bible and the Sears catalog!”
“Whether we need the bible, we need to augment it with other visions,” Cheuse said. “Books help us understand and rejuvenate ourselves.”
Cheuse said there are characters in novels that we know better than people we grew up with.
In the question and answer session, he was asked about his work as a writer and as a reviewer for NPR.
“We are the only broadcast network in the history of civilization that takes books seriously,” he said.
To deliver his reviews, Cheuse reads three to five books a week and then features those he has enjoyed. To date, he has given very few negative reviews.
“For every book I review, I read five to 10 others,” Cheuse said.
One of the questions he fielded was about the future of books in this digital age where people are reading books on their phones, on I-Pads or on readers such as Kindle or Nook.
“I think books will go on,” he said. “Twenty-five percent of every book will come in hardcover.”
Regarding the contentious debate in Congress about cutting federal funding for NPR, Cheuse said if funding is reduced, NPR would survive in urban areas; but it would limit access to multiple points of view for people who live in more remote areas.
The book fair raises money for the Matheson Library headed by Ruthanne Vogel, which has a collection of more than 19,000 books, videos and magazines.