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Whatcom Reads

The fight for freedom

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

In March 2016, when Whatcom County Library System executive director Christine Perkins reviewed Sunil Yapa’s debut novel, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, Donald Trump had not yet been elected president, and the surge of citizen activism that would arise as a direct result of his election had yet to come. 

A couple of years down the line, Yapa’s story set amid the 1999 protests in Seattle during a meeting of the World Trade Organization is more relevant that ever. Via the point of view of a number of characters—among them the adopted and estranged son of the police chief, a middle-aged idealistic revolutionary, two cops with issues, and a delegate from Sri Lanka—readers will discover that Yapa’s compelling tale of conflict and compassion is a universal one.

“The novel’s title references a poster made popular during the time of the protest, which carries the subheading ‘Keep Loving, Keep Fighting,’” Perkins wrote in her Cascadia Weekly review. “The author’s message is clear: If one deeply loves freedom and other people, one must fight to protect them. The fight may not be literal—it may mean committing oneself to understanding others’ points of view. At its simplest, the idea is that empathy is a deeply radical act.”

The oh-so-timely themes that arise from Yapa’s book made it a natural Whatcom READS choice for this year, organized by all the public and academic libraries in Bellingham and Whatcom County and their community partner, Village Books. Per usual, the countywide program that encourages everyone to read and discuss the same book will conclude with a number of in-person visits by the author—this year, those will take place March 8-10.

But in the days and weeks before Yapa’s five free visits—which include “An Evening with Sunil Yapa” keynote presentation at the Mount Baker Theatre—a dizzying array of book talks, gatherings, art events and live musical presentations at area libraries and bookstores will expand on the book’s focal points.

Music-wise, “Pete Seeger: The Man and the Music” with Hank & Claire (Feb. 1 at the Lynden Library and Feb. 2 at the Ferndale Library), “Songs of Protest & Social Justice” with Jimmy Brite (Feb. 3 at the Everson Library, and Feb. 24 at the North Fork Library), and “Songs of Action & Compassion” with Tracy Spring (Feb. 18 at the Firehouse PAC, and March 2 at Allied Arts) will explore the connections between great music and passionate activism.

“I’m personally excited about two particular programs that are just a little different,” WCLS community relations coordinator Lizz Roberts says, pointing to “Think and Drink: I Was There” Feb. 10 at Van Zandt Hall, and “Digging Deeper with Sunil Yapa” March 8 at the Deming Library.

“‘Digging Deeper’ will be a different kind of Whatcom READS author program,” she says. “We asked Yapa for a list of books that have influenced his work, and that evening he will talk about those titles. I know that writers will be especially interested in this one.

“For the ‘Think and Drink,’ we’ve found folks who were there at the WTO riots and want to talk about it,” she says. “Having been in a number of marches myself, it will be interesting to hear what it was like for others. It makes me wish I could visit the future to hear how parents will talk to their kids about what’s going on now.”

The Whatcom READS pick is available for checkout at all public libraries in Whatcom County in a variety of formats. For a full lineup of events, go to http://www.whatcomreads.org

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