Let me start off by saying that I really love interacting with people from older generations. There is something so fascinating to me about listening to someone talk about their life when it was so drastically different from my own. I have always thought this and I’ve always thought that their rich life experiences allow them to give the best insight. After they’ve lived through so much, how could they not? So to go into RiverMead Life Care Community and talk about novels that are so rich and get the RiverMeadeans’ take on the work? It was definitely my “cup of tea.”
In February 2018, we traveled to RiverMead in Peterborough, NH. The novel up for discussion was The Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henríquez, a work that so thoroughly impressed me that I immediately jumped in to talk to the folks at RiverMead about it. We, the students at Franklin Pierce University, and the citizens over at RiverMead, were really fortunate to all receive copies of the novel to keep and to cherish (which I think we will all do). After giving us time to read and think about the book, we all came together under the guidance our wonderful moderator, Dr. Dangelantonio. Most of the students took a shuttle bus to the facility; for the fall portion of the read we had the folks at RiverMead come to the University to see us. There weren’t as many of us from Franklin Pierce University (FPU)—scheduling conflicts are probably the most difficult part about putting on an event like this—as there had been when we discussed Peyton Place, but there were twice as many from RiverMead and that just made for a more intimate experience.
Before we could even begin our discussions, the RiverMeadeans asked to know more about Cristina Henríquez and then we launched into a discussion about our favorite characters and which ones we found most sympathetic. I think we were all enthralled, as both students and residents went into side conversations about their own lives and experiences in relation to the questions and culture, heritage, and even occurrences in the lives of Maribel Rivera and Mayor Toro. The primary topic our discussion seemed to lead to was the effect of culture and heritage, both in the novel and in our own lives. As we finished our visit and shared cookies and punch, the most-often repeated questions was what was the next book we’d read and discuss together and when were we FPU folks going to come back. The love of literature and words, of discussion and analysis, were so very present in that room, and experiencing this rich, thoughtful, inter-generational conversation was one of the highlights of the year.
My primary suggestion for adjusting the project would be to make sure it’s scheduled at a time when as many people as possible can attend; make it an evening event or even a Sunday afternoon event. My advice for anyone looking to imitate this event is first and foremost, jump into it headfirst. It’s fun, engaging, and as long as you have a handful of students and residents, it can be a truly energizing and meaningful experience. As for the benefit of such a project, I think Dr. Dangelantonio says it best: “These types of community-based discussions support an interest in literature and language by promoting character and good fellowship—ultimately serving the greater society by fostering literacy.”