Last Wednesday, Nov. 16, Dr. Laura Cowan, a professor and chair of English in the University of Maine’s English Department, led a discussion at Fogler Library. The discussion took place in the Fogler Library Classroom as a part of the “Books In My Life: Reading That Transforms” series. Fogler Library has been attempting to be more involved with the student and surrounding town culture, hosting computer programming classes, book clubs and family nights.
“I really like learning about the variety of the books the professors are interested in,” Amber Gray, a librarian for the Fogler Library, said. Gray helps lead family nights and student reading group events.
There were requirements for the books Dr. Laura Cowan was allowed to discuss. Mel Johnson, the Master of Ceremonies for the event and the person in charge of inviting professors for this library series, asked that books chosen were transformative, were not professional and left the perimeters of the professor’s scholarly field. Dr. Laura Cowan discussed four books from her childhood. While they filled in Johnson’s requirements, the books also had other things in common. “Perri: The Youth of a Squirrel” by Felix Salter, “Freckles” by Gene Stratton Porter, “Black Like Me” by John Howard Griffin and “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan all touched on different perspectives, specifically touching on a sense of wonder which added to “a social history” of people’s lives.
Other themes touched upon inside Dr. Laura Cowan’s collection were a focus on understanding loss, childhood innocence, the power of imagination and ethics of care. As she talked, she progressed in order from early childhood to elementary, middle and high school books. Each time, you could see the professor’s love of nature and humanity grow. She told tidbits of information of each book she chose, the most information being about “Perri: The Youth of a Squirrel,” making sure to mention that it was one of the first Disney movies made. Perhaps these small bits of information encouraged others to make connections about their favorite works. Mel Johnson commented after Dr. Laura Cowan introduced “Freckles,” that the author of that book, had also written “Homing with the Birds,” one of his personal favorites.
During the event, Dr. Laura Cowan had also passed out notecards, asking her audience to write the names of a couple books from their childhood. From “1984” to “The Giving Tree,” the audience talked of the boos that once and continued to inspire them. Other books of interest included “The Hardy Boys,” “North American Mammals” and interestingly, encyclopedias.
“When I was growing up I was always asking questions and my mom would tell me to look it up, so I remember I had these books of encyclopedias,” Jennifer Bonnet, a librarian at the University of Maine, said. It was touching to see the books, even the nonfictional ones, which kept people returning to their libraries and bookshelves.
“It was [a] great [event] and people should come,” Micah Valliere, a senior undergraduate student studying English at the University of Maine, said. “You learn about new books.”
Moments such as this allow students, professors and members of the surrounding community to come together and share the memories in their lives surrounding the power of literature. To have this book series at the University of Maine is a reminder that books never stop being important, even during the busiest times of the year or semester. Sometimes it is nice to sit down and listen to another person light up when discussing what book