Larry Watson, author of the award-winning novel “Montana 1948” is pleased that scores of village residents will be gathering later this month to discuss his book.
“It’s a real honor,” Watson said in a recent interview. “Apart from any benefits that may come my way, I really like the idea of a community getting together over a book, of all things, and having these conversations.”
“Montana 1948” was chosen last spring to be the featured title in the first annual Shorewood Reads, an event designed to encourage residents to read the same book simultaneously and then come together to discuss it. Shorewood Library Director Beth Carey estimated that the book has been checked out of the library more than 200 times and been read by a number of area book clubs over the last few months. The project is sponsored by the Friends of the Shorewood Library in conjunction with Shorewood High School and with support from the Shorewood Foundation.
Discussion sessions will be held at 7 p.m. on September 29, and 10:00 a.m. on October 1, in the lower level meeting room of the Library/Shorewood Village Center, 3920 N. Murray Ave. A Shorewood High School English teacher and a SHS student will lead each discussion. Watson, a professor of literature and creative writing at Marquette University, will talk about the book at appearances at 3 and 7 p.m. on October 5, in the Library/Village Center’s lower level meeting room. He also will talk about his new novel, American Boy, which is being released this month. All events are open to the public.
“Montana 1948” has been the featured book in community reading programs numerous times since its publication in 1993, something Watson attributes to the fact that it deals with the kind of moral dilemma that “frequently makes for interesting and productive discussions.” The book also may resonate with readers, Watson said, because it is set in the small town of Bentrock, Montana, where residents “know secrets about the community” that they keep from outsiders. It’s a common phenomenon, Watson said, adding, “I’m sure Shorewood knows things about Shorewood that Milwaukee doesn’t know.”
Watson said that he has been pleasantly surprised that “Montana 1948,” which is told through the eyes of 12-year-old David Hayden, has been adopted by a number of school districts. (The novel has long been required reading for ninth grade students at SHS; members of the class of 2015 are reading it this month.) He said that most of the novel’s characters were drawn from “people he has known,” and that there is “some of me in David.” For example, like David, Watson’s father and grandfather were both sheriffs, “but before I was born.”
The book’s Montana setting, Watson said, gave him the opportunity to explore one of the paradoxes associated with life in the West: the fact that a high value is placed on self-reliance. “I generally think of that as a good quality, but it can run amok,” he said. “Pretty soon you feel not only self-reliant, but also that you can do things your own way because you’re living out there far from the center of civilization.”
Watson said that as a youth he was an “indiscriminate” reader who grew up reading the work of such disparate authors as Harold Robbins and John Steinbeck. “I didn’t much think one was better than the other,” he said. “I was just reading for pleasure. But I was reading.” Today, his favorite authors include Philip Roth, Louise Erdrich, and John Updike. His “desert island book” would be “The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems.” He called his new novel, “American Boy” “a return for me, in some respects,” in the sense that like “Montana 1948” it is a coming-of-age novel.
Copies of “Montana 1948” are available at the Shorewood Public Library, 3920 N. Murray Ave., and at Boswell Book Company, 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee. Boswell customers who mention that they are participating in Shorewood Reads will receive 10 percent off the purchase price.
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