Each year, Centre County Reads brings locals together to discuss and celebrate a particular text. This year’s pick is “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist,” the 2016 novel by Sunil Yapa, a State College native.
“This year’s book was suggested by a committee member based on their enjoyment of the story, as well as the fact that the author is from State College. We thought it would be really nice to have a local author who wrote such a powerful book here to speak about his experiences and work,” said Amy Madison, adult services librarian at Schlow Centre Region Library who has been a member of the Centre County Reads committee for five years.
According to Sean Goudie, director at the Center for American Literary Studies at Penn State, which partners with the public library system to organize Centre County Reads, “It’s a really amazing novel. ... It retells the 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle that turned violent. ... It retells (the event) from various points of view ... so that the reader can have a broader, richer understanding of what happened and why all those people were there and why that event was important and significant and why it should matter to us. ... It seemed like a very timely novel for all of us to consider and take up.”
It seems all those involved hope the timeliness of the novel encourages discussion and a shared communal experience for Centre County readers. However, they recognize not every book will appeal to the entire community.
“We try to pick a book each year that we feel is important, but not each year can the book speak to every constituency, so we try to balance it,” said Goudie, mentioning that last year’s book was geared toward the young adult crowd. “That kind of novel allows you to involve middle school-aged kids or high school-aged kids, while Yapa’s novel is more high school age and beyond.”
The book has some violence and language that might not be appropriate for all ages, but Goudie said they find other ways to involve elementary and middle school-aged kids.
“That’s a part of the larger slate of events,” he said. “So not everybody has to have necessarily read the book to participate. ... We’re really careful about having a balance of events that will appeal to all ages, even as not every year can the book do that.”
This year’s events range from a knit-a-thon Saturday during the kick-off event to a writing contest and roundtables.
“The roundtable discussion ‘What is Activist Literature?’ will be an interesting event and will afford attendees an opportunity to discuss protest in literary history, specifically with Rose Luqui, an award-winning journalist from Hong Kong who covered the protest Yapa writes about,” said Maria Burchill, the chairwoman of the Centre County Reads committee.
Madison agreed, noting, “I think the roundtable held on the Penn State campus is where a lot of the most interesting conversation about this book will happen. There are a number of people on the panel who can provide some great perspective about the work and the protest it is based around. I wouldn’t miss that.”
Yapa will be making his appearance March 21, for a signing and question-and-answer session.
“The author visit with Yapa will be a unique chance to ask questions about the book,” Burchill said. “The audience always comes up with ones we never thought of and brings a wide variety of experiences. It’s a fascinating evening.”
For those looking to pick up a copy of “Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist,” Burchill said “the libraries purchase multiple copies of the book, usually around 80, all of which are checked out and on reserve. We try to purchase enough for the community to obtain a copy easily.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Centre County Reads kick-off event
- What: noon-3 p.m. Saturday
- Where: Centre County Library & Historical Museum, 200 N. Allegheny St., Bellefonte
- Info: www.centrecountyreads.org