The Big Read Blog (Archive)

Postcards From Brunswick

September 11, 2007
Brunswick, Georgia

If a native of Savannah is a Savannan, is a native of Charlotte a Charlatan? I just flew from one to the other, and in an hour I leave for Washington. Ordinarily it can be tough to do a Big Read justice if I wait beyond the next morning to write up my impressions, but with Brunswick, Georgia, somehow I sense forgetfulness won't be a problem.

Even if memory flagged, I have snaps of Brunswickians whose industry and enthusiasm even my meager photographic skills can't obscure. Take Dr. Michael Bull and Al Davis, the superintendent and deputy superintendent of schools, respectively. On opening night's "Be the Book" kickoff, to embody the novel both would salvage from Bradbury's flames, each got into the spirit of Fahrenheit 451 by dipping into the closets of their municipal colleagues. Al borrowed a firefighter's coat to preserve Fahrenheit itself. Dr. Bull hit up his baseball coach to represent Catcher in the Rye -- a book, he pointed out, that's survived its own trials with censorship. No flies on these guys -- locals schools have distributed 2,600 copies of Fahrenheit to students in the 8th, 9th and 11th grades.

Local theater director Rob Nixon is working on a production of Fahrenheit, with music by the Athens, Ga.-based, band Kenosha Kid. When I showed off by placing the band name's allusion to my beloved Gravity's Rainbow, Rob did me one better by insisting that he'd wanted to dress as a character from Thomas Pynchon's monumental novel, but ultimately decided in favor of another of his favorites. Using Photoshop to elongate a picture of himself into haggard hideousness, he pinned it onto his chest and topped it off with a sticker bearing the novel's last line: "It was not till they had examined the rings that they recognized who it was." Any guesses?

Ringmastering this whole extravaganza was Heather Heath of the Golden Isles Arts and Humanities Association, who's worked so hard masterminding more than a month of events that she only remembered at the last minute to don a makeshift costume of her own: a black pantsuit in mourning for Kurt Vonnegut, with a badge quoting "And so it goes," the refrain from Slaughterhouse Five. Heather's husband, Bryan Thompson, invoked mayoral privilege and declined to dress up, but emceed the unexpectedly enjoyable official proclamations with an aplomb befitting his long theater background. Librarian and venturesome First Amendment Film Series programmer Cary Knapp opted for mufti too, but a T-shirt paid tribute to Fahrenheit in its own way. It read, "Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak because a baby can't chew it. ? Mark Twain."

Local theater director Rob Nixon. Photo
by David Kipen

Then it was time for an authentic Low Country Boil, a regional tradition involving local shrimp, sausage, cornbread, sweet potatoes, and long bouts of satisfied groaning. Finally we repaired to the vintage Ritz Theatre for an after-hours peek at The Art of Reading, an exhibit by gifted, resourceful local photog Bobby Haven featuring locals caught reading. Two standouts: the entire high school drill team, going through a routine with books in hand, and a local skateboarder, perusing an unidentified paperback in midair.

And me? Mercifully unphotographed, I nevertheless got caught reading the Federal Writer's Project's American Guide again, whose Brunswick entry does it more justice than I have, and in less space. Maybe I'm a charlatan in or out of Charlotte?