Let’s Talk About It is one of the Maine Humanities Council’s oldest programs, offered free to Maine libraries in partnership with the Maine State Library. This popular reading and discussion program makes a real difference, giving residents of communities both large and small the pleasure of gathering with neighbors to talk about good books and the important issues they raise. Each Let’s Talk About It program consists of five sessions with a scholar/facilitator to discuss theme-based books that are loaned by the Council.
The slender slip of land that leads to New Harbor parallels Boothbay Harbor. It is a long, peaceful drive past pastureland and forest, with vistas of the water along the way. New Harbor offers a glimpse of rural community life among the midcoast’s busy towns. However, as elsewhere in Maine, the pace of life even in this small community makes opportunities for neighbors to gather together to meet and share ideas all too rare.
The Bristol Area Library is one of the centers of the peninsula’s cultural life. “We live in the typical rural community, with limited opportunity for inquiring minds to join together to discuss books that we have all shared,” wrote Anna Kiessling, who coordinated the Let’s Talk About It program at the library. In the autumn of 2005, the Bristol Area Library read the “Individual Rights and Community in America” series with a small but loyal audience to do precisely that kind of sharing.
The audience was a mix of retirees and working-age individuals, some who had participated in a past Let’s Talk About It program and some new to the experience. “[I joined the group] to discover the roots of democracy [and out of] feeling a need to connect with the community,” one told the Council.
In a comfortable, large room around a round table, participants, the librarian, and the scholar/facilitator discussed a range of books that would bring forward questions of history and civic rights and responsibilities that apply to communities everywhere. Texts ranged from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, to Plato’s Republic, to Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, which, according to Jeff Aronson, the series scholar, “so moved one participant he admitted to ‘crying by page 50’ of the story. He’d never read it before and never expected to be so moved by the novel.” For that session, Jeff reported, “Participants chose their own ‘scarlet letters’ of socially controversial issues that have huge individual impact; one suggested the ‘A’ today would stand for AIDS.”