Reading Groups React to 2016 One Book South Dakota

SomeLuckCOVER.jpgIn recent months, Some Luck-y South Dakotans have gathered in Scotland, Wessington, and Sisseton to discuss this year’s One Book South Dakota - Some Luck by Jane Smiley. 

All three groups enjoyed the historical aspects of the novel, which begins in 1920 with each chapter set in a new year. Overall, they found the everyday lives of the characters compelling.

One attendee in Scotland identified with Some Luck so much, he described the book as his life; he was born around the same time as Frank, a character in the novel. Some discussion focused on readers identifying with growing up on a farm and experiencing small town life. They also understood the need some characters felt to explore the larger world and move away from the Iowa farm. 

In addition to history, Scotland readers were intrigued by the characters, whom they found mysterious and open for exploration. Readers also identified with the relatable family. James Sullivan, the scholar who facilitated the discussion, said, “The group at Scotland greatly enjoyed the book. They thought the book’s depiction of the farmer’s life and worries (was) realistic.”  

Kara Vehar, director of the Scotland Public Library, said the community benefits from yearly participation in the One Book program.

“It is wonderful to talk to people about reading. We always get so much more out of the book than when we read by ourselves,” she said. “This is also an inter-generational event. The high school reads the book and then comes to the discussion for extra credit, and we always have a good adult turnout. It is a very good event for our little town.”

Wessington Public Library SL on FB post.JPGIn Wessington, the participants expressed mixed reviews for the novel; some did not care for the book, and others want to read the whole trilogy. They discussed nature versus nurture in the family dynamics as children grew up. The talked about the way farming practices have evolved over the years, along with the difficulties of the ‘30s and World War II, which the book weaves into the story. 

Donna Runge, librarian at Wessington Public Library, said the group at Wessington has participated in so many One Book South Dakota conversations, they are bold in expressing their opinions. She says the One Book selection always sparks good discussion. 

In Sisseton, many people shared personal stories that the book sparked in their memories. They discussed some of the novel’s themes, including guilt and secrets, life on the farm, luck, and how parents treat children. 

Overall, all three groups enjoyed reading and discussing the novel, and they appreciated SDHC’s simple application process and coordination guidelines. Sharon Pendergast, a co-leader in the Sisseton discussion, said, “This was my first one to organize. It was a lot easier than I expected.”

Smiley, Jane - PRH - credit Mark Bennington.jpg

Groups interested in reading and discussing Some Luck can apply for up to 30 books through the SDHC’s One Book South Dakota program. A $50 application fee applies. Visit sdhumanities.org to apply for a package through the SDHC’s One Stop Programs. The One Book SD program includes the option for a scholar versed in Some Luck to lead the group’s discussion.

Readers can meet Jane Smiley and other Pulitzer Prize winners at the 2016 Festival of Books in Brookings, Sept. 22-25. She will deliver the keynote address on Friday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Performing Arts Center in Brookings.

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Submitted by Jodilyn Andrews, graduate student in English at South Dakota State University.