Whidbey Island readers discover Olympic Peninsula life

Whidbey Reads, an all-Island program that encourages everyone to read the same book and experience events that support its themes, has chosen Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison’s portrait of the Olympic Peninsula, “West of Here” for their 2013 selection.

Jonathan Evison

Whidbey Reads, an all-Island program that encourages everyone to read the same book and experience events that support its themes, has chosen Bainbridge Island author Jonathan Evison’s portrait of the Olympic Peninsula, “West of Here” for their 2013 selection.

Ann Murphy, Oak Harbor librarian, chaired the Whidbey Reads committee this year.

During the phase when the committee was considering several local authors, Murphy heard Jonathan Evison speak at a book event in Bellingham and was impressed with his approachable style and honest appraisal of his work. 

“People either love the book or they hate it,” said Evison at the event. “That’s fine with me as long as they’re talking about it.”

Murphy was impressed by Evison’s friendly style of mingling with his audience.

“He was named ‘Most Engaging Author’ in 2011 by the American Bookseller’s Association,” said Murphy.

Coupeville Librarian Leslie Franzen acknowledged that Evison’s book “takes time to get into,” but it’s a good read overall and has several “laugh out loud” moments.

“Evison is an author to watch and he’s well on his way,” said Franzen, who said she enjoyed his third novel, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” even more than “West of Here.”

Franzen noted that the paperback is also available in e-reader formats and in audio form. Friends of the Library groups from all five Whidbey libraries bought extra copies of the book in support of the Whidbey Reads program.

Set in the fictional town of Port Bonita on the northwest coast of Washington, “West of Here” spans 127 years in our state’s history. Part of the narrative focuses on the rugged area’s natives and town founders circa 1890, and other segments show the lives of their descendants in 2006.

The novel links the actions of the natives and founders to their modern day descendants –- one group rushing blindly toward the future and the other struggling to undo damage done by their ancestors.

The narrative is bookended by events leading up to the building of the Elwha River dam in 1910 and its removal in 2006.

In a 2011 interview on NPR, Evison acknowledged that the building of the dams on the Elwha River contributed to the economic growth of towns on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, but he also spoke of the environmental damage caused by the Elwha and other dams on the Olympic Peninsula. His research for the book showed the Elwha salmon run in the 1800s was almost half a million compared to a paltry 4,000 today.

Jonathan Evison will do three “Meet the Author” presentations on Whidbey, starting at Oak Harbor Library at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 17.

Evison then travels south for an afternoon presentation at the Coupeville Library at 2 p.m. Thursday, April 18 and another at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Freeland at 7 p.m. that evening.

When choosing a book for Whidbey Reads, committee members consider a number of factors. In recent years, budget concerns have led them to choose Washington authors. Another factor is the appeal of any book to both male and female readers, and the availability of adjunct activities leading up to the author’s visit to the three Island locations.

This year’s choice spawned a number of adjunct presentations, including the showing of the acclaimed PBS documentary “Undamming the Elwha” at 5:30 p.m. Monday, April 1 at the Coupeville Library.

The Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Freeland and Clinton libraries will each sponsor a talk by Robin Charwood, Ph.D., called “Removal of the Elwha River Dams -– Why, When and How.”

Oak Harbor’s talk by Charwood was March 20; Coupeville’s followed on March 26; Freeland offers the talk at 6 p.m. Monday April 8; and Clinton hosts the speaker at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11.

Other enrichment events include book group discussions in early April at Clinton, Coupeville, Langley and Oak Harbor libraries.

Clinton Library will show the film “Nature: Salmon: Running the Gauntlet” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 11 followed by a discussion with Kurt Beardslee of Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest.

Murphy said a subplot of the book involves the legendary “Bigfoot” and the libraries hope to schedule an event later in April with Tyler Bounds, field tech for the TV show “Finding Bigfoot.”

Throughout March and April, students of the Pacific Northwest Art School in Coupeville will exhibit landscape paintings of Northwest scenes at all island libraries in support of the Whidbey Reads program.

Pick up a comprehensive guide to Whidbey Reads events and a copy of the book at any Island Sno-Isle library.

All Whidbey Reads events are free and open to the public.


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