The Best. Book. Ever.

by Nikeala Frederick

On the evening of October 16th, the Athens-Clarke County library welcomed the Rabbit Box community to its auditorium for an intimate storytelling event about books. And these weren’t just any books but those from PBS’ The Great American Read, a public television series and companion events at libraries that examined 100 novels Americans had chosen in a PBS survey as most worth reading.

The emcee for the night, Ashley Garrett, is a book enthusiast and blogger who holds degrees in Literature and English. She kept the energy high at the calm library with her quick-witted humor and infectious laughter.

Rita Raines started the night off by reflecting on the notoriety of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” when it was first released because some thought it should be banned due to its focus on magic and wizardry. She connected with the book on several levels, looking past the fantastical to the relatable themes of belonging, self-esteem, true friendship, and standing up for what is right even when it’s not easy.

When Emily Rose Thomas picked up “Looking for Alaska,” an exciting coming-of-age story about a teenager, she was a brand-new mother stuck in the hospital, a place she felt was about as far away from adventure as one can get. However, as she kept reading, Emily realized that while she had passed the peak of her coming-of-age days, she was still seeking a “great perhaps” in this new chapter of life she was just starting: parenthood.

Gracing the Rabbit Box stage for the 8th time, second-generation librarian Elsa Durusau did not initially get the “Game of Thrones” hype when she started reading the novel as a result of countless recommendations. It wasn’t until she was well into the series that a certain line clicked with her. She moved some audience members to tears when she described facing various trials and tribulations in life, sometimes wanting to retreat from society. But the series by George R.R. Martin encouraged her to armor herself, find her strength, and walk proudly in her truth for the sake of others.

As a young missionary-in-training, Dr. Tom Reeves and his fellow seminarians circulated controversial literature such as “Catcher in the Rye” in secret. He eventually got his hands on a copy of “1984” and was taken aback when he recognized parallels between the life he was leading and the pages of the book he was reading. This realization ultimately changed the trajectory of his life.

Cracker Jack Surprise storyteller Sarah Klipper talked about how books have shaped her life from the beginning of her existence. She credits her mother, also a book lover, for nourishing her passion for reading from a young age through to her adulthood. She now uses her love of all things literature to help others through her job at a nonprofit that helps to make reading accessible for individuals with non-traditional learning patterns.

While on active duty with the Navy, Sean Polite could be found in the library when he wasn’t working or training. As he contemplated life after his military commitment, he ran across the novel “Siddhartha,” which he described as a “monument of self discovery.” He was faced with the choice of following the path everyone expected of him versus being his own person. The inspiration of the book ultimately led him to Athens after his military career, a decision he has never regretted.

Kristin Saxon traveled all the way from Kennesaw to share her story. Growing up as the youngest of four, she sometimes felt alone as a quiet, odd kid who never quite fit in. She found empowerment, friendship, and kinship in the stories of “Anne of Green Gables.”

Laurie Allen, a longtime high school English teacher, proposed that there can be some value in being introduced to books that aren’t so great by literary standards. Though she is well-acquainted with most of the books on the Great American Read list, she chose to talk — in an amusing story she told so well — about “50 Shades of Grey.” Ironically the series ended up creating a strong sense of community when she and her colleagues read aloud and joked about the books’ overwrought passages and opened up to each other on levels that they might not have if it weren’t for a series that was so much fun to discuss — and mock.