Book discussion brings together Brunswick residents, Bowdoin College students

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BRUNSWICK — The first meeting of a new, experimental book club is taking place on Friday. It’s called the Brunswick-Bowdoin Community Read.

The goal is to discuss and raise awareness about differences within and between the Bowdoin College and town communities by reading and talking about the same book: “Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.”

The book chronicles author Barbara Ehrenreich’s experiences working minimum-wage jobs around the country in the late 1990s. She moved from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, staying at the cheapest places she could find and working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide and at Walmart.

She found that not only was the work emotionally and physically exhausting, but it was nearly impossible to get by on just one job.

On Friday, Jan. 27, at 12:30 p.m., Ehrenreich will launch the community read with a talk at Bowdoin’s Pickard Theater. The event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required. Over the next week, discussion groups will assemble at locations around the college and downtown.

According to Judy Montgomery, associate librarian at the Bowdoin College library, the idea for the community read came from a desire to revive a bygone college tradition of assigning a book to all incoming first-year students.

Liz Doucette, director of Curtis Memorial Library, was also interested in the idea. The library has run book groups in the past, and a large part of its mission is to provide community members with “life-long learning opportunities and opportunities to exchange ideas and information with each other,” something Doucette said the community read would help accomplish.

Next, a committee made up of representatives from the college and the town decided which book to read. Montgomery said the group wanted to select a book that dealt with the subject of difference, and chose economic inequality because the problem underlies many other issues.

They settled on “Nickel and Dimed” because it was relevant, not too academic, and “laid out a lot of issues relating to the working poor and poverty,” including access to health care, transportation and affordable housing, Montgomery said.

The book “really lends itself to a really good discussion, and I think the ability to talk about these things civilly with each other is something that the library really tries to foster,” Doucette said.

The book is available at the town and college libraries, and copies can be purchased at Gulf of Maine Books on Maine Street, the College Store at Brunswick Station, the Bowdoin Bookstore in Smith Union, and through The Bowdoin Store website. New and used print editions – as well as a Kindle edition – are available through Amazon.com. Electronic versions are also available through iTunes.

After the talk, moderators from Bowdoin and the town will facilitate discussions on campus, at Curtis Memorial Library and at downtown businesses. Participants are encouraged to sign up online to ensure a mixture of members from both communities.

Doucette said she is excited and hopeful that the read, which she called “a grand experiment,” will be a success. If it is, the program could continue into the future.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or eguerin@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

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