‘Long Way Home’ 2018 Livermore Reads program’s book;
By Lou Fancher
When New York Times bestselling author Saroo Brierley searched for — and found in 2012 — his birthplace and biological mother using Google Earth, digital technology caused something good to happen.
Brierley went on to write a memoir: the true story of himself starting at age 5, raised in poverty, becoming lost on a train in India, adopted by an Australian couple and eventually recording his remarkable journey combining survival, family and self-discovery. “A Long Way Home” was adapted for the big screen in 2016, further expanding its reach to a global audience through technology as the six-time Academy Award-nominated film “Lion.”
Brierley’s book is the 2018 selection for the 12th annual Livermore Reads Together program. The community event has people reading the same book and participating in a free, month-long celebration of Indian and Australian culture, travel, Google Earth, adoption and genealogy.
Supported in part by funds from the Friends of Livermore Library, Friends president Dave Runyon says he voted for the book because it allows for people with diverse interests to be involved.
“We always ask ourselves, ‘How can we engage the largest percentage of the community?’ Elderly, teens, people from all global cultures and with economic variety is what we work toward.”
Public Services Librarian Paul Sevilla curated and organized the ambitious program that explores themes in the book. Four days before the Jan. 28 kick-off event that featured traditional Indian dance, Sevilla shared a story about how the book had already paid dividends.
“After reading the book, I used Google Earth to explore my homeland in Manila in the Philippines. I left there when I was 9. It blew my mind to see it. You know, people say technology is bad sometimes, but I hope they gain a sense of the world through Google Earth and Saroo’s story. Someone who grew up in an obscure place in India found his way to a loving home in Tasmania. What are the odds of that?”
Readers find that improbable odds through literature result in a bridge that connects geographically disparate locations: India, Australia, the Tri-Valley. Similarly imagining the possibilities of cross-cultural events united by universal themes, Sevilla and library staff used the book as a springboard.
“I got suggestions from co-workers. We chose local groups and people as presenters as much as possible. Scheduling the featured speakers was hard, until a colleague showed me Bay Area Travel Writers.”
The San Francisco-based nonprofit association has supported professional travel journalists since its founding in 1984. Travel Writer Jeff Greenwald’s “Strange Travel Suggestions” (Feb. 8) and Writer April Orcut’s presentation on Australia (Feb. 27) add dimension to the Livermore reading program.
“I think people will gain a sense of places in the world not being as far apart or separate as we think they are,” says Sevilla.
An “All About Adoption” panel Feb. 17 aims at similar bridge-building. Bethany Christian Services and Bay Area Adoption Services International will offer information and resources about welcoming an adopted child into a new home.
“Adoption is an important part of Saroo’s story,” says Sevilla. “We hope people come to learn, but also to share adoption success stories like his.”
Other events include a free screening Feb. 10 of “Lion” at the Vine Cinema & Alehouse. Sevilla says votes gathered from the Tri-Valley community in August 2017 before the final book selection was made indicated awareness of the film.
“They knew Saroo’s story from news outlets, and they loved the themes they read about in a synopsis the survey provided. People who had seen the movie said it was moving. People who hadn’t said they wanted to experience the book in closer detail.”
Details will arrive in a didgeridoo music concert Feb. 24 with musician William Thoren; Lion Mask-making at Springtown Library (Feb. 27); genealogy research led by Kay Speaks from the Livermore-Amador Genealogical Society (Feb. 28) and special art exhibits and exhibitions of Indian and Australian culture. And of course, there are Google Earth-related activities including instruction from Google’s Dr. John Bailey.
Runyon says the Friends library group shifted to an all-volunteer structure and has in the last two years doubled the funds it provides library programming.
“Selling used books in the store and online gets things like the reading program started,” he says. “When the labs and other things the staff tries are successful, the city of Livermore is a terrific partner with us.”
Copies of books and event schedules will be available at all Livermore Public Library locations. The programs are free and open to the public. Inevitably, people can visit Google and Google Earth to locate details about Livermore Reads Together.