‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ selected as focus of Ferndale Reads

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published February 20, 2013

 Greg Sumner, of Ferndale, leads a group of about 40 people through a reading of the first page of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” during the kickoff event of this year’s Ferndale Reads program at the Rust Belt Market Feb. 9.

Greg Sumner, of Ferndale, leads a group of about 40 people through a reading of the first page of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” during the kickoff event of this year’s Ferndale Reads program at the Rust Belt Market Feb. 9.

Photos by Erin Sanchez

FERNDALE — So it goes that the Ferndale Public Library has chosen a literary classic as the basis of this year’s Ferndale Reads program, with Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse-Five” supplying the inspiration.

For the third consecutive year, the library is hosting a series of events in March with the goal of bringing the community together under a common love of reading. Vonnegut’s 1969 novel, which is often regarded as one of the greatest of the 20th century, will provide the fuel for readers to enjoy a number of book discussions, presentations, comedy shows, film screenings and more.

Darlene Hellenberg, programs coordinator for the Ferndale Library, explained that she was inspired to choose “Slaughterhouse-Five” as this year’s Ferndale Reads selection after reading it for the first time last summer.

“It’s completely different from any of the books we’ve done in the past with Ferndale Reads,” she said. “There are a lot of different elements to it. It’s basically historical fiction mixed with these weird, trippy fantasy sequences, but it has some important themes that can appeal to everyone. And it’s such a short, quick read, too. There’s so much great material packed into this little 200-page novel.”

A kickoff event for Ferndale Reads was held at the Rust Belt Market Feb. 9. Free copies of the book were handed out to readers, while a group of about 40 people participated in the library’s version of a flash mob — Hellenberg called it a “book mob” — by reading the first page of “Slaughterhouse-Five” out loud in unison. Additional copies of the novel can be checked out at the library in the coming weeks for those interested in taking part in Ferndale Reads.

One difference with this year’s program is that there will be a lot fewer events held around the community — a change that Hellenberg said was deliberate.

“A lot of our events haven’t always been very well-attended in the past,” she admitted. “Ferndale Reads is still a relatively new program, so we’re trying some different things with it. This year, we wanted to focus on getting as many people as possible to actually read the book, rather than just coming out to the different events.”

A similar reasoning led to the cancelation of a Ferndale Reads companion program for children. “We just didn’t feel like the kids’ event was super successful last year,” Hellenberg said. “It didn’t really catch on like we hoped it would.”

Still, there will be plenty of fun activities for book lovers to enjoy this year. The Go Comedy! Improv Theater will be performing a comedy show inspired by “Slaughterhouse-Five” at 8 p.m. every Thursday of the month: March 7, 14, 21 and 28. The library will be hosting a Science Fiction Book Club meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 13, which Hellenberg said will likely feature a screening of the “Slaughterhouse-Five” film. There will be a book party at The Emory at 7:30 p.m. March 21, as well as a Friends of the Ferndale Library Book Club meeting at 7:30 p.m. March 26.

The library will also present “For the Love of Reading,” an exhibition of local artwork inspired by literature, which will be on display from mid-March through late-April. In addition, throughout the month of March, there will be numerous ways for Ferndale Reads participants to earn entries in a prize drawing. These include taking part in the “Catch ‘Em Reading” program, in which residents can post photos of themselves reading “Slaughterhouse-Five” at various places around town, and attending book discussions or other Ferndale Reads events.

Perhaps the highlight of this year’s program, though, will be the keynote speech provided by Greg Sumner, a history professor at the University of Detroit Mercy, at 7 p.m. March 27. Sumner will visit the library to discuss his recent book, “Unstuck in Time,” a journey through Vonnegut’s life and work, and speak about the enduring popularity and impact of “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

“Greg is one of our regular patrons and a huge Vonnegut fan,” Hellenberg said. “I think he will be able to offer a really interesting perspective on the book and its author.”

Sumner, a Ferndale resident, said that he feels a close connection to Vonnegut because he was born and raised in the author’s hometown of Indianapolis, Ind. His goal with “Unstuck in Time” was to tell the story of Vonnegut’s life through the 14 novels that he wrote during a 50-year period.

“Vonnegut is kind of the Shakespeare of the Midwest; his work has a real Midwestern sensibility about it,” Sumner contended. “I see his books as a diary of the 20th century written by a child of the Great Depression. I just felt like that story was not fully being told.”

Sumner noted that the success of “Slaughterhouse-Five” happened almost by accident. A novel about World War II that was published during the heart of the Vietnam era, it was adopted as an anti-war document by the adolescent, counterculture generation of the late 1960s, and it still gets banned from public schools across the country.

“I think Vonnegut would be amused that his work is still considered controversial after his death,” Sumner said. “‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ challenged conventional wisdom by de-glorifying war and promoting an anti-establishment attitude. But to me, even though it was so important to that era, the novel has a more timeless, universal quality that still resonates with people of all ages. That’s why Vonnegut’s work still feels so vital today.”

Sumner is also a big supporter of the Ferndale Reads concept.

“I think there’s a great hunger out there for something like this,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of opportunities these days for people to get together as a community and share a book because they want to, not because they have to. Vonnegut was a major proponent of community reading, so he would certainly approve of this program.”

For more information, call the library at (248) 546-2504 or visit www.facebook.com/ferndalereads.