An Interesting Take on Book Club

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by Scott Hewitt, courtesy of The Columbian

Art that’s inspired by a good book can be interesting.

In Meg Wolitzer’s celebrated 2013 novel, “The Interestings,” a gaggle of teenagers at a summer arts camp bond together in that amazingly intense way that only summer campers can. Love, rivalry, hero worship and enduring dreams for the future all sprout. So do years of unexpected consequences and soul-searching about what it means to be ordinary versus what it means to be special and truly “interesting.”

The Camas Public Library’s (WA) bimonthy Book-to-Art club is special and interesting. Its mission is not just to get people reading and talking — it’s also to get them creating. It was started by librarian Judy Wile, who has run a monthly “Saturday Adult Craft-o-Rama” at the library for years. In that group, Wile selects a project and everybody tries it.

But Wile recently stumbled upon another inspiration: The Library-as-Incubator Project, hatched by some creative library-science teachers and students at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The idea is to generate creative partnerships between libraries and artists. Wile adopted one of Library-as-Incubator’s many online suggestions for Camas: a book discussion group that generates artistic reactions as well as conversation. Readers do their artwork at home and bring it in to share.

Love it, hate it

Anybody who’s ever been in a book group knows that somebody’s going to fall in love with it while somebody else inevitably wonders, who chose this dog?

Wolitzer’s dense 2013 novel about summer camp and its lifelong aftermath found both fans and shrugs in the Camas group, which spent about an hour on a Thursday evening in late March batting around the characters’ choices, motives and outcomes.

Some said they disliked “The Interestings” because of characters who seemed “shallow,” were attracted to the wrong partners, or didn’t get their just desserts for bad behavior. “I would have forgiven the whole thing if that guy had gone to jail,” Jamie Morris of Washougal said of one nasty actor.

But that’s real life, others stressed: unfair, unpredictable, inevitably disappointing. Filled with people you love and people you don’t. Librarian Wile reminded the group that these characters start out as 15-year-old children, and wondered: “Who isn’t shallow at age 15?”

A definite thumbs-up for “The Interestings” from Monika Spykerman of Camas. “Loved it. Devoured it,” she said. “Summer camp was one of the most formative experiences of my life. At camp, I really found out who I was.”

When discussion ran down, it was time to unveil the artwork.

Creative usage

Spykerman painted a watercolor-green forest surrounding a tipi, then cut the tipi open and filled up the inside with thematic words from the book. Sue Kilby sketched a simple tipi. Laura Bray wove several colorful, diamond-shaped “God’s Eyes” — just the sort of craft project that kids do at summer camp, she said.

Morris’ dislike of the book didn’t prevent her from building an impressive, well-designed diorama featuring a tipi (made of flexible plumbing material), a campfire (glowing from inside thanks to a tiny light bulb), a stand of trees and genuinely authentic sticks, rocks and dirt.

Finally, Wile not only provided s’mores for the group, but also displayed her own artistic take on the book in homemade merit badges for activities that are never, ever allowed at summer camp: Creative Curse Word Usage, “Up S#@!t’s Creek” Canoe Building, and, of course, Conspicuous Beer Consumption.

Pretty interesting, huh?