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One Book, Two Villages Brings Big Author to Town

By Betsy Mikel in Arts & Entertainment on Jan 30, 2011 5:30PM

2011_01YouKnow.JPG The Winnetka-Northfield Public Library, a small public library that serves the 13,000 residents of guess which two cities, has something big to celebrate. Tomorrow, Siobhan Fallon, author of You Know When the Men Are Gone will be making a special stop on her book tour at the local independent bookstore. “We had 24 hours to make a case to the publisher,” said Erin Maassen, the library’s public relations director. The frantic 24 hours paid off, because Fallon will now be reading and answering questions at The Book Stall in Winnetka.

This is big for several reasons. First and foremost, You Know When the Men Are Gone is fixing to be the next hugest book of the year. Publisher’s Weekly named the book their pick of the week last fall, and Tanya Biank, author of Army Wives (she wrote the book that was adapted for Lifetime TV) had great things to say about it. You Know When the Men Are Gone is a collection of interconnected short stories about an army of women waiting for their men to return to the army base in Fort Hood, Texas:

In Fort Hood housing, like all army housing, you get used to hearing through the walls... You learn too much. And you learn to move quietly through your own small domain. You also know when the men are gone. No more boots stomping above, no more football games turned up too high, and, best of all, no more front doors slamming before dawn as they trudge out for their early formation, sneakers on metal stairs, cars starting, shouts to the windows above to throw them down their gloves on cold desert mornings. Babies still cry, telephones ring, Saturday morning cartoons screech, but without the men, there is a sense of muted silence, a sense of muted life.

The author appearance is even bigger for the residents of Winnetka and Northfield because Fallon’s book is this year’s One Book, Two Villages selection. The team of librarians who chooses the book each year had been plowing through book after book, trying to find one that would stick out. Known for selecting books that go onto become everyone-is-reading-it books (The Help, Water for Elephants and Kite Runner, to name a few), the librarians felt a lot of pressure to find an accessible book that was still poignant and popular. “Nothing struck us the way this one did,” said Maassen. “The design of our program is to get people talking about issues. In this book, you see a different side of the war than from the war front. This brings up new ideas that people haven’t thought about before.”

2011_01Siobhan.jpg Similar to the One Book, One Chicago program, the Winnetka-Northfield Public Library plans several events around One Book, Two Villages to encourage people to think and talk together and enrich their understanding of the book’s themes and concepts. On deck is a Skype discussion with the author this spring once more people have had a chance to read the book. Maassen says the library might bring in some professors to discuss some of the political and ethical issues from the book. The library has 75 copies of You Know When the Men Are Gone, but those pretty hard to get your hands on. The Book Stall, where Fallon us reading will keep ordering copies for purchase as needed. The program also includes a kids’ book that has a similar theme: Shooting the Moon by Frances O'Roark Dowell is about a 12-year-old girl whose brother is serving in Vietnam. He begins sending undeveloped film, and she begins to see a completely different side of the war.

And if you look at the numbers, One Book, One Villages is unbelievably successful. It’s too early to gauge how many residents are reading You Know When the Men Are Gone, as it was just realized last week. But the library saw 2,000+ check-outs of last year’s selection, The Help. And The Book Stall sold 500 copies of it. And 1,700 people attended the author event. We have You Know When the Men Are Gone sitting in our stack of must-reads right now, but we might move it up to the top. Winnetka-Northfield Public Library is good at picking awesome books, and it sounds like this is going to be another one.

Siobhan Fallon reads from You Know When the Men Are Gone, January 31, 7 p.m., The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka, free