Readers Digest, But, Uh, Where?

Posted on 07 October 2011

Surprise Sag Harbor book dinners return for fifth year to benefit John Jermain Library.

Surprise Sag Harbor book dinners return for fifth year to benefit John Jermain Library.

By Joan Baum

It’s called One For the Books and indeed, as the title suggests, it’s unusual and noteworthy — a series of book-oriented benefit dinners for the John Jermain Library that is like no other book-discussion group. Or gathering of good-food enthusiasts. Unlike most book club moveable feast get-togethers, where people know each other and take turns selecting books and providing fare, and different from Author Nights where readers sign up to have dinner with a writer at a well known person’s home, One for the Books turns on delicious mystery – Who will be hosting the dinner? What will be served? Who will be there? Until the very last minute, only the book that occasioned the dinner is known.

A couple of months before the dinners, each volunteer host picks a book. Later on, the full list is publicized in print and on the library’s website, along with available copies and call numbers. But that’s it until a week before as to who’s doing what and where. This year’s dinners take place on October 15 and October 22, each with a different set of 13 offerings, fiction and nonfiction.

To judge from past years, the One for the Books fund raiser has been a great success, realizing much appreciated money for the library’s capital campaign for restoration and expansion, and serving as a fun-filled social event and opportunity to meet new friends.

It’s amazing, say Ann and Howard Chwatsky, past attendees and hosts – “you live in town 30 years but still keep meeting new people,” especially in an artistic community like Sag Harbor. Rarely is the conversation “superficial chit-chat,” but that doesn’t mean it’s formal or forced. The feedback they’ve had has been “wonderful,” the Chwatskys note. Often a successful night widens the circle, as guests who have had a rewarding evening decide they’d like to be hosts the next year.

Gail Slavin, Chair of the One For the Books Committee points out another meaning of the title, beside playing on the expression that something is memorable because it is unique. She notes that it was the intention of One for the Books’ founders in 2006 (then board members Susan Merrell and Christiane Neuville) that each dinner host and participating guest be understood as “one” in the community who is “for” books — for reading and libraries in general, and John Jermain in particular. The Chwatskys say they are delighted to participate in anything related to the library, which has been a mainstay for them and their kids and grandkids. And Ann made such an “elegant” meal when they hosted a book dinner, Howard sighs.

Community is at the heart of the concept, says Library director Catherine Creedon, who attends both October dinner nights. How wonderful to celebrate “the pleasures of communal reading,” a rather recent development in the ancient history of sharing stories when people sat around a fire and told tales. She is thrilled that the One for the Book series is a chance to inform more people about the library’s outreach activities, including work with the district’s schools and adult programs. Is it generally known that a Suffolk County library card allows John Jermain patrons to get free book downloads? Or that Sag Harbor’s rich diversity is reflected in this year’s choice of books, including Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, originally written in Spanish and available in the library in both Spanish and English?

Of course, secrets do get leaked, though it’s pretty much the case, Slevin says, that until the week before the dinners most guests have no idea where they will be having supper or how to get there. Anonymity rules — “the book and the subject matter should be the draw.” Hosts, too, usually have to wait to see how many guests to expect. Dinner can be anywhere from six to 20 at table, depending on space and preparation — and choice of book. Some selections fill up fast and not until two weeks before the event do guests find out if their first choice (of three) can be accommodated.

It just happens that the fiction / nonfiction mix this year, a list that reflects both quirky and sophisticated literary taste, is close to 50-50. A few local authors are represented, and one (not telling) will be a dinner guest. For sure it won’t be Rudyard Kipling, who, along with two other authors no longer alive, are part of this year’s selections. The unnamed author-dinner guest does say that One for the Books is worth supporting because the library is, and it’s important to be “a good citizen.” It’s also “gratifying” to get to talk with people “who find in a book what you want them to find.” People at these dinners are “honest” and the event is “a great idea.”

Tickets: $100 ea. Dinners run from 7-10. For further info and to reserve a place, call 725-0049, xt. 244 or email

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