Categorized | A Conversation With

Gail Slevin

Posted on 12 October 2012

By Annette Hinkle

The coordinator of One For the Books, talks about the annual series of book-themed dinner parties hosted by Sag Harbor area residents to benefit the John Jermain Memorial Library. The dinners, each based on a different book selected by the host, will be held at 26 private homes over the next three weekends, beginning this Saturday.

How many years has One for the Books been around?
This is our 6th One for the Books. In 2006, the first year we had the elected library board, Christiane Neuville and Susie Merrell were on the board together. They came up with the idea to get people together over the issue of the library.
This event started the conversation about the library as a community treasure, the idea of supporting the library as a community institution, as opposed to where we should put the building. It broadened the conversation and took it into the realm of books.
This year we really dedicate the event to Christiane Neuville. She was right there in the beginning, a force with Susie getting it started.

What are some of the fun things that happen at the book parties?
Sometimes people will walk in and say, ‘Don’t you live down the street? We haven’t met but I’ve seen you walk the dog.’ You’re are pleasantly surprised when you learn they like the same book as you. It puts you on common ground. You don’t have to go through the whole thing of ‘What do you do?’
Last year, three women came in who didn’t know each other. They found they all lived within a street of each other and met that night. Sometimes people will find out they went to the same college, or are from same place.
It’s funny, it does work. If you like the same book as someone else, there are often other things about them you’re bound to like.

And people are helping the library.
This is a nice event for them to get involved in the library on a level that’s not too daunting. It’s fun. It can be an opportunity to meet new people in the greater Sag Harbor area and it gets them involved with the library, which sometimes is a little hard to think about — how you as an individual can help the library. But this is really a nice way to do it. You have 10 to 12 people at a house, people pick the book – they don’t pick you, they don’t pick the house, they pick the book. It has a surprise element to it.

So you don’t know in advance who the hosts will be — only the title of the book.
One of the decisions early on was to keep the host list a secret. We wanted to take it out of that house tour mentality and focus more on books, discussions and bringing people together. We’ve kind of kept that model.

As coordinator of the dinner parties, it must take a little shuffling to get everyone situated.
We ask for three choices – sometimes they’ll just give you one or two choices. If you look at the list of books – it’s either, ‘great, great,’ or ‘please don’t send me there.’ They know the book will set the tone. At some dinners they spend more time talking about the book than others. Sometimes they talk about it over the first drink, then its done.
Hosts do think ahead and envision the people around the table. They put themselves in the space and think about the people they’re going to share dinner with and what book is going to represent that. Nobody picked ‘50 Shades of Gray’ this year.

How much has One for the Books raised and where does the money go?
Tickets are $100 and the money goes toward the capital campaign. We will have raised a bit over $160,000 over the six years. It’s not a dramatic fundraising event, but what it does, and we’ve seen this over and over, it plants the seeds in people’s minds about the library and the library’s needs and it has come back in other ways. People make donations or do an event next year.

 I hear sometimes you get the authors themselves at the dinners.
This year we have four dinners where authors are available to come — we would love to build to that kind of presence. We’re extremely fortunate to have as many writers in the community as we have. This whole idea recently has been ‘what do we need books for with Kindles and iPads?’ But when you meet an author, whether at the library or someone’s house, you’d like to have their book.

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