In 1819, the whaling ship Essex left Nantucket, Mass., for the South Pacific with 20 crew members aboard.
In the middle of the ocean, the ship was rammed by a whale, leaving the crew stranded in tiny boats for about three months.
Nathaniel Philbrick tells this true story in "In the Heart of the Sea," which New Canaan Library patrons and residents are reading this winter as part of the inaugural One Book New Canaan project.
Besides promoting the book around town, the library is sponsoring a number of related events, including Philbrick's appearance in town on April 4 to discuss the book.
One of the reasons the library chose this book to launch the program was because of its appeal to all demographics, according to Lisa Oldham, executive director.
"We wanted a work that would be interesting to the widest range of ages and also that would appeal to both genders," Oldham said.
Many book clubs and students at New Canaan High and Saxe Middle schools are also reading the book.
Oldham said the library was also looking for a story with New England roots.
In the book, which was released in 2000, Philbrick used primary documents, including an account from the ship's cabin boy, to recount the events of that maritime disaster. While drifting in three tiny whaleboats for more than 90 days, the crew suffered from weather, hunger and disease, and eventually took extreme measures to survive, including cannibalism. The story inspired Herman Melville's "Moby Dick."
Philbrick said he is happy that a whole community is reading and talking about his book.
"For me, that's kind of the ultimate goal," he said. "It means a lot to me."
Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tucker Murphy, one of the ambassadors for the project, said she was excited about the initiative.
"I love the concept of a whole town book project," she said. "It's a great way to bring the community together."
Besides Murphy, the other New Canaanites serving as ambassadors for the project are First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, newspaper columnist Mike Lupica, high school football coach Lou Marinelli and radio host Chris Russo. Read Full Article
Besides promoting the book around town, they were given copies of the book to read and are featured in posters for the program.
The library's goal with One Book New Canaan is "to strengthen our community through the power of one book," Susan LaPerla, the library's director of development and programs, said in a news release.
"This is an account of the human spirit under duress, a tale of survival against all odds," she said.
Philbrick, who has written seven books, said the story is indeed appropriate to all ages, but there's also a version for younger readers called "Revenge of the Whale." He said several teachers have told him that the book is one of a few in which young boys get interested.
"Getting boys to read is a special challenge and this is one that boys seem to enjoy," he said.
Philbrick's books are all U.S. history nonfiction, most of which take place on or by the sea.
"In the Heart of the Sea" won the 2000 National Book Award for Nonfiction. A movie based on the book is scheduled for release in March 2015.
Through April 4, there will be discussions on the book at several New Canaan locations, including at least six events at the library. A location for Philbrick's visit still hasn't been determined.
Oldham said she expects the event to become annual or biannual. Several other towns, including Darien and Fairfield, have had similar programs for a number of years.
Murphy said the library did a good job picking a book that would fit all demographics. "We'll be able to go out for dinner with friends and talk about the book," she noted.
The library has almost 100 copies of the book for residents to take out. Elm Street Books, which helped secure the author for the April event, is selling the book for $16.
Kathleen Millard, the store's general manager, said the book was a great choice to launch the program in New Canaan.
"It's a very interesting piece of history," Millard said. "And having the author available to speak to the town about his book is really great."
She also said the project "is a nice way to have a book conversation going in New Canaan."
The library is encouraging residents to share their reading experiences on Twitter and Facebook using the #OneBookNewCanaan hashtag.
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March 18: "Whales, Whaling, and Whalers," a Mystic Seaport Outreach program for children in grades three to six.
March 22: "The Golden Age of Whaling," a program for all ages with Connecticut's first state troubadour, Tom Callinan.
March 30: "The Art of the Yankee Whale Hunt," for age 10 and up, presented by the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
April 1: Book discussion of "Revenge of the Whale," the book's young reader's version, for children in grade four and up.
April 2: Books & Bagels book discussion of "In the Heart of the Sea" at the library.
April 4: Author Nathaniel Philbrick's program.