by Annette Hinkle
Perhaps you hadn’t realized it, but the John Jermain Memorial Library officially turns 100 this year — in October to be exact. While library staff and board members will spend much of the year focused on a temporary move followed by an long-overdue renovation of the building, library program director Martha Potter has come up with some very creative ways for the public to pay homage to the century old institution.
She began last fall with “Thursday Night Writes,” a popular series of periodic discussions with writers in the community who talk about their field of interest. The series, which runs through early May, welcomes author Jane Ciabattari this Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
“We live in such a literary community, and when I contacted all the local authors for the ‘Thursday Night Writes’ series, most everyone agreed,” says Potter. “It was really great. But we’re also a reading community and I thought, ‘How can I bring that in?’”
So last week, Potter kicked off “Thursday Night Reads,” a multi-part series also based on writers — though not local and not necessarily living. The monthly series runs through December and features screenings of movies based on classic novels, one per decade, from the last 100 years. The first offering on March 18 was the 1993 film “Ethan Frome” starring Liam Neeson, based on Edith Wharton’s 1911 novel. Next up, on April 15 will be the 1974 version of “The Great Gatsby” starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, which is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel.
Potter explains that the idea for the series came to her when she realized there hadn’t been film screenings at the library for a while. The notion of tying films to a century worth of novels seemed interesting, and it was one that came together fairly quickly.
“I started picking books, and most of the ones I picked had been made into films,” says Potter. “The hardest thing was the modern decades.”
Not every great book has been made into an equally great film, and Potter rejected several titles for this very reason. She selected books that not only represented high quality literature, but reflected the time period in which they were written. Potter also felt that the books should be based in this country (though the last pick of the series, Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” is only partially so). Designing the series gave Potter a good excuse to re-read all the books, some of which she hadn’t picked up since she was a teenager.
“I hated ‘Ethan Frome’ in high school. I liked it so much better the second time I read it,” says Potter. “I also just reread the Great Gatsby, and was struck by the symbolism. There’s a billboard for an optometrist and these eyes that stare at Gatsby throughout the book. I didn’t remember that.”
For people who like to read ahead, Potter has made sure that the library has at least one copy of each book featured in the series on hand. It’s also good for would-be critics. After last Thursday’s screening, the audience took 20 minutes to talk about their impressions of the story and compared one medium to the other.
“Most people didn’t care for the film as much as the book,” says Potter. “Liam Neeson has an Irish accent, which didn’t quite make it with audience.”
“The Great Gatsby” will be screened at 6 p.m. on Thursday, April 15 with a discussion to follow. For a full schedule of “Thursday Night Reads,” visit the John Jermain Memorial Liibrary, 201 Main Street, Sag Harbor, or call 725-0049.