Reading program announces the 2013 book selection.
Geraldine Brooks, author of Caleb's Crossing
Karen B. Jacobs, San Diego resident who nominated the book
Related Story: One Book, One San Diego Unveils 2013 Title
CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Each year, KPBS and the San Diego public library sponsor the search for a book that will engage the whole community. The one book, one San Diego selection is meant to open up a whole new world for us to discover and explore together. This year, more than 500 entries were submitted to the selection committee. And today, we're proud to make the announcement. The winner right here on Midday Edition. The one book one San Diego book winner for 2013 is Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. My guests, the author of Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks.
BROOKS: How are you?
CAVANAUGH: Quite well, thank you. And Karen B. Jacobs is here, the San Diego resident who nominated the book. Welcome to the program.
JACOBS: Thank you, I'm thrilled.
CAVANAUGH: Karen, congratulations on nominating the winning book. Why did you nominate Caleb's Crossing?
JACOBS: Caleb's Crossing represents several things to me. One of them is that I'm European/American. My family emigrated to the United States from Europe, and the teller of the story is in fact a European immigrant. Geraldine Brooks, this is not the first book that I've read by her. And she bases it historical fact, she creates this story around something that she found out about Caleb. That is the reason, when I first heard about it, it's a story of a Native American who had a subsistence existence, and yet he was at the crossroads where the Europeans and the Native Americans began to live together and be together, and he plead choices for himself that led him to attend Harvard College, which was quite a different from his life on Martha's Vineyard.
CAVANAUGH: And Geraldine, congratulations to you.
BROOKS: Yes, thank you! You're joining us from your home on Martha's Vineyard today, which is where the book takes place. Now as Karen told us, this book takes us on a journey to a very different time and culture. Can you explain a little bit more about which it's set?
BROOKS: Yeah, it was interesting that you used the words new world in your introduction. The characters in my book are really very much inhabiting what they thought of as the new world. It's at that moment of first contact when the first group of English settlers came to Martha's Vineyard to make a new life for themselves. And as somebody who's visited the vineyard for years before we moved here full-time, I always wondered why did they go there so early? The first settlement set down here in 1641, which seemed an incredibly early time to put 7 miles of treachious ocean betweens between you and the people the mainland. And they were surrounded by thousands of Indians at that time, but the thing that really made my eyes jump up was when I was looking at a map of the island that the tribe had prepared telling about places of cultural significance in their history. And I saw the note vationthat said birthplace of Caleb, first Native American graduate of Harvard. And I thought, oh, how cool! I might run into him at the local library. Then I saw the date was 1665. And I was just astonished that this young man had made this cultural crossing at such an early stage and sat down to learn with the sons of the colonial pure tan elite.
CAVANAUGH: Now, this story is told through the voice of Bethia Mayfield. Is she a typical woman of this time?
BROOKS: I think her circumstances are typical. She labors from before down to after dark just to do all the things that were necessary when you came to a place where there weren't established trades and crafts. You had to do or do without. But she said atypical in that she is animated by this tremendous hunger for learning. And for a young puritan woman of that era, that was not a good thing necessarily because the puritans thought it was fair enough for women to learn to read so they could read the Bible to their children. But beyond that, women were not supposed to pursue higher learning. It was thought that it would addle the female brain if they studied Latin and Greek that the boys who had academic inclinations were encouraged to study.
CAVANAUGH: I've seen this book has been praised for your use of a sort of period voice in telling this story. And yet, it's also been praised as being thoroughly accessible to a modern day reader. Could you read us an excerpt from Caleb's Crossing?
BROOKS: Yeah, I'd love to! I'm going to read just right from the beginning of the book, I think. And this is Bethia speaking to us. "It is coming on the lord's day. Though my father has not seen fit to give me the news, I have the whole of it. They supposed I slept, which I might have done, as I do each night while my father -- together on the far side of the blanket that divides our chamber. Most nights I take comfort in the lower murmur of their voices. But last evening, her voice rose urgent and anguished. I suspect that was what pulled me back from sleep. My brother frowns on excessive displays of temperament. I turned my shade down there to see what it was that emphasized him so. I could not hear what my father said, but then my brother's voice rose again. How can you expose Bethia in this way? Of course, once I heard my own name, that was an end to T. I was fully awake. I raised my head and strained to hear more. It wasn't that difficult for he could not govern his tongue, and though I could not wake out my father's words at all, fragments of my brother's replies were clear. "He is not only a year removed from Paganism!" He would not be hushed. "Of course not, father. Nor do I question his ability. But because he has a facility for Latin does not mean he knows the decencies required of him in a Christian house. The risk is..." at that moment, the baby cried out, so I reached for her. They perceived I was awake then and said no more. But it was enough. I drew her to me on the shakedown, she shaked herself against me like a nestling bird and settled easily back to sleep. I lay awake staring into the dark. Running my head along the rough edge of the roof beam that slanted an arm's length above my head. Five days from now, the same roof will cover us both. Caleb is coming to live in this house."
CAVANAUGH: Geraldine, thank you for that. Geraldine brooks reading from Caleb's Crossing, just announceod this program as the selection for the 2013 one book, one San Diego. I'm wondering, Karen, back to you, why do you think San Diegans in particular will be able to connect to this story?
JACOBS: I think we are a city of immigrants, and this is a story of immigration, two cultures coming together. We certainly share diversity. We have a wonder of diversity in this city. I think there's a little something for everybody. People that like history, people like that want to know about Native Americans, early Americans, so many topics are covered.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, Geraldine I understand you'll be traveling to San Diego for a series of special events this fall. What is it like to connect with those who have read your work?
BROOKS: Well, it's solace for a writer because it's such a solitary writer. I'm sitting here in my study where I spend the good part of every day just wrestling with my imagination, and the only people I talk to are the ones that are made up.
[ LAUGHTER ]
BROOKS: So it's very nice to get out and see a book in people's hands and to be able to have a dialogue with readers and find out what they've taken from the book.
CAVANAUGH: It strikes me, the program is sponsored by KPBS and the San Diego public library. In this world of iPads and kindles, the library seems to get overlooked. How important is it for authors?
BROOKS: The library was everything for me growing up. We do not have a tremendous amount of spare cash. So we got most of our books from the library. We would go every Saturday. It was a family ritual. My mum and dad and my sister and I, and we'd all come home with our arm full of books. And I just remember those days, and the excitement of not knowing what the group book was going to be that you would discover in the library. And today of course for me, the library is fundamental to my research. You can find a tremendous amount online, but you can't have the serendipitous encounters that you can have when you find the book you didn't know you were looking for in the stacks of a great library.
BROOKS: Geraldine, what were the main themes in Caleb's Crossing that intrigued you? Obviously when you saw that sign of Caleb being the first Native American of Harvard back in the 1600s.
BROOKS: Well, the relationship between the Indians and the Americans on Martha's Vineyard were a little different than they were on the mainland. They didn't quite go to hell as they did. People didn't take up arms against one another. And I was intrigued by that, and I was intrigued by how the two very, very important world views meshed or didn't mesh, and what the pure tans made of the Indian cosmology and their more an mist beliefs and what the Indians thought about these incredibly austere Christians who came actually wanting to convert them to Christian beliefs. The settlers on the island felt that that was their duty, that they had to try and bring these people into the Christian belief system and that meant destroying a great deal of the very beautiful and vibrant culture that existed here. So there was that kind of conflict, but I was also really intrigued by the puritans' desire, before they even had food and roof over their head, they were already planning a college. And they started Harvard in 1636, and it was not the well-funded institution that we know today. It was a really struggling, small school where the scholars were so badly fed that the cook was dragged into court and asked to account why she had served the scholars mackerel with the guts still in them, and put goat dung in the hasty pudding. So life was very tough, but there was this dedication to learning. And I had thought that the main purpose of the education would be religious at that time, and I was enlightened when I discovered that really what they studied was literature at a very high level. Latin and Greek literature. And it was a really wonderful and rigorous liberal arts education, even then.
CAVANAUGH: Karen, you participated in the one book one San Diego program for a number of years now. What do you enjoy about this program?
JACOBS: I think that I enjoy the most being able to think about the world as other people see it. And the stories have been about people at different parts of the world, different experiences. And that's what I've enjoyed the most.
CAVANAUGH: Do you also take part in the events, the authors' events?
JACOBS: I have not. But I'm looking forward to the one this fall.
CAVANAUGH: So you and Geraldine have something in common!
BROOKS: I'm looking forward to meeting Karen!
CAVANAUGH: Well, colorful. Can we get you to come and visit us when you come back to San Diego for these events?
BROOKS: That would be a great pleasure!
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Thank you both very much.
BROOKS: Thank you very much.
JACOBS: Thank you!