Centre County Reads explores outer space with ‘Packing for Mars’

For the CDTMarch 19, 2014 

  • Centre County Reads events

    • “ Writing the Unknown” writing contest: entries due March 24 by emailing cals@psu.edu

    •  Discussion of “Packing for Mars”: 2:30 p.m. March 25, Schlow library; and 1 p.m. March 28, Centre County Library, 200 N. Allegheny St., Bellefonte

    •  “Out of This World” story time: 1 p.m. March 29, Centre County Library

    •  Screening of “2001: A Space Odyssey”: 7:30 p.m. March 30, State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College

    •  Nighttime viewing of Mars: 8:30-10:30 p.m. April 4, Davey Lab, University Park (rain date is April 11)

    •  “Writing Science for the Masses” discussion: 4-5:30 p.m. April 8, Schlow library

    •  Visi t by “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void” author Mary Roach: 7 p.m. April 15, HUB-Robeson Center auditorium, University Park

    •  Video broadcast of Roach’s visit:, 7 p.m. April 22, Schlow Centre Region Library, 211 S. Allen St., State College

This year’s Centre County Reads invites participants to imagine the challenges of living in outer space by reading “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.” The book, a nonfiction work written by Mary Roach, covers a range of topics including the effects of space travel on the human psyche and preparing food in a zero-gravity environment.

Beginning in 2003 with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Centre County Reads is an annual event that gives county residents a chance to experience and discuss literary works as a community. In general, the organization strives to choose books that are appropriate for all ages while still allowing for deep, meaningful discussion.

Preparing and running the event is a joint effort between several schools and organizations in the county, including the Schlow Centre Region Library. Wendy Klemick, the library’s public relations and marketing manager, explained why “Packing for Mars” was chosen as the 2014 book.

“After last year’s wonderful family novel ‘Caramelo’ by Sandra Cisneros, the CCR committee explored numerous possibilities,” Klemick said. “ ‘Packing for Mars’ was quite a contrast and rose to the top because of its science orientation and appealing verve and style.”

The committee also realized that the book’s author exemplified many of the qualities that they search for each year.

“Mary Roach has many ardent fans,” Klemick said. “Her books are a blend of science, adventure, discovery and humor, filled with astonishing observations and written with exceptional wit and clarity.”

Maria Burchill, chairwoman of Centre County Reads, also outlined some of the reasons why Roach and this book in particular were a good fit for the event.

“I think readers will connect with her writing style,” Burchill said. “It’s very approachable and she’s able to communicate theories and situations with humor. I think attendees who are interested in the realities of space travel will find the event not only entertaining but illuminating.”

Centre County Reads is an expansive event, and according to Klemick, the committee aims “to involve different community partners each year to help create lively, interactive experiences to go along with reading and book discussions.”

In fact, one factor that plays a role in selecting a book each year is what types of partnerships the committee will be able to form in order to create supplementary material to engage readers for months at a time.

“It was immediately clear that here in Centre County we would have many wonderful partners for this book, including science-oriented groups like the Discovery Space Museum, PSU’s Lunar Lions and PSU’s Davey Lab,” Klemick said.

Centre County Reads kicked off this year’s initiative with a Space Carnival at The Discovery Space Museum. On April 4, visitors to Penn State’s Davey Lab will be able to learn more about stars, planets and other cosmic objects with an outer-space observation event.

In addition to enhancing the “Packing for Mars” experience for readers, this year’s Centre County Reads offers activities aimed at aspiring writers. The Center for American Literary Studies will sponsor “Writing for the (Un)known,” a writing contest that challenges participants to pen a short story or poem about a relatively unknown topic, and “Writing Science for the Masses” roundtable discussion.

The 2014 Centre County Reads event will culminate with a talk and book-signing by “Packing for Mars’ ” author Mary Roach.

For people who may have no interest in the subject of space travel, Klemick promised that “Packing for Mars” offers something for everyone.

“ ‘Packing for Mars’ is not only a universal book but also a very American one,” she said. “It is a terrific adventure tale characterized by pioneering spirit, incredible ingenuity, colorful characters, big dreams and bigger accomplishments.”

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