One never knows what they might learn over a Tuna Mac at The Lantern. In an entertaining lunch that covered everything from living in China to the origins of golf on the North Shore, “Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale” committee members Cynthia Quick, Dick Wetherald, and Jean Larson told the story of how this program will unfold in our community this fall.
“The concept of a citywide reading program isn’t new or unique to Lake Forest,” explains Jean, director of Adult Services at Lake Forest Library. “It just hasn’t been done here before. But what is unique to our city is the connection to Ragdale and reading authors who wrote books while living in Lake Forest,” she adds. The Ragdale Foundation is a unique artist residency program, located in Lake Forest, which has supported emerging artists and best-selling authors in their creative process for 35 years. Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale is a month-long, citywide program that will take place this October. Presented by the Lake Forest Library and Ragdale, this program encourages the Lake Forest community to read one book by a writer affiliated with Ragdale. Based on the “One City One Book” program, which takes place in more than 70 communities nationwide, its primary mission is to foster literacy, a culture of reading, and a sense of community. This initiative reflects a three-year partnership between Lake Forest Library and The Ragdale Foundation.
An initiative more than a year in the making, the Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale committee decided to piggyback on Ragdale’s annual fall fundraiser, “A Novel Affair,” and selects an author who will be featured at that event. The committee, which consisted of representatives from Lake Forest Library, Lake Forest College, Dickinson Hall, Lake Forest Book Store, Ragdale, and the community, was charged with reading a number of books. By consensus, they chose The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama.
“I think this book will appeal to both women and men,” says Dick, a community representative, of this piece of historical fiction. “The story is told before, during, and after World War II from the Japanese perspective. I never really had considered that before.”
The Street of a Thousand Blossoms is set in Tokyo in 1939, where two orphaned brothers are growing up with their loving grandparents who inspire them to dream of a future firmly rooted in tradition. The older boy, Hiroshi, shows unusual skill at sumo wrestling, while younger brother Kenji is fascinated by the art of creating hard-carved masks for actors in the Noh Theater. Across town, a renowned Sumo master, Sho Tanaka, lives with his wife and two young daughters. Life seems full of promise as Kenji begins an informal apprenticeship with the most famous mask-maker in Japan and Hiroshi receives a coveted invitation to train with Tanaka. But then Pearl Harbor changes everything. As the ripples of war spread to both families’ quiet neighborhoods, all of the generations must put their dreams on hold and find their way in a new Japan.
“Gail writes beautifully,” says Jean. At press time, all 30 copies of The Street of a Thousand Blossoms had been checked out from the library. Fortunately, Lake Forest Book Store has ordered additional books.
“We hope this book will launch a community discussion,” adds Cynthia, director of External Relations at Ragdale Foundation. As part of a month-long schedule of events, Gail will make a presentation about her book at Lake Forest Library on September 30. On October 12, Dickinson Hall will host a Japanese Tea Demonstration with tea provided by The Green Teaist in Lake Forest. And, finally, a number of local book clubs have chosen this book as their October selection.
“People have always told me that Lake Forest is a city of readers,” Cynthia says. “Reading seems to be a very important avocation of its residents. I’m looking forward to seeing how this program unfolds.”
For more information about Lake Forest Reads: Ragdale, call 847-810-4610.
-Ann Marie Scheidler // Illustration by Kristen Ulve