Walnut Creek creating unity through ‘One Book’
By Lou Fancher
Although it’s not a prime number to a mathematician, “one” is primary in the Walnut Creek Library Foundation’s 11th annual “One City, One Book” program.
As a building block for community, sharing one book through reading and public events creates unity and unique bonds, according to program manager Kelli Nero.
This year’s selection of “The Martian,” by Andy Weir, focuses on a single planet, Mars, and the story of an astronaut who must fend for himself after he is accidentally left behind on the planet. The New York Times bestseller was adapted for 2015 film that starred Matt Damon.
The singular experience of reading the book for participants rises from a partnership between the foundation, Friends of the Walnut Creek Library and Ygnacio Valley Library, and Contra Costa Library. Free copies of the book were distributed and numerous copies are available for patrons to check out at city libraries.
A series of free public programs in September and October include Jay Trimble of NASA Ames Research Center, with stories and discoveries from NASA’s missions to Mars (Sept. 14); author, pilot and astronaut-in-training Lafayette resident MJ Marggraff, who will introduce her new book and talk about suborbital travel, research she’s doing for NASA and related topics (Sept. 21); and Oakland author and farmer Novella Carpenter, with a discussion about growing food in an urban setting (Sept. 26). The final event is a community discussion Oct. 5 led by adult services librarian Carol Yuke at the Ygnacio Valley Library.
With the county library system declaring 2016 the Year of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics), foundation board president Peter Magnani said “The Martian” fit the theme. “The selection committee also knew that it had been the choice of Marin County the year before. The fact that it had been so successful there was an inspiring factor.”
Magnani wasn’t on the committee — a group of librarians, board members and other people invited to read at least a half-dozen books from among the 30-to-40 the committee considers — but says about the selection, “To me, the essence of the book is a close-up into the inquiring scientific mind. The incredible ability of humans to work on problems and solve them. The excitement of being forced to figure out complicated things, and the zeal a human brings to that are the most relevant things.”
The fact that the book was adapted to film is “a dual-edged sword,” he said. The movie is a good hook, but familiarity might cause some people to forego reading the book. On the other hand, the subject of which telling of the story is better, truer to science, more “authentic,” could lead to interesting discussions, suggested Magnani.
In the book, protagonist Mark Watney survives in a lively, improvisational style, but with deep knowledge of technology and ecology that includes growing his own food. His constant potato crop is a far cry from the wide variety of fruits, vegetables and livestock that Carpenter cultivates successfully in Oakland. Magnani says bringing the outer-space fictionalization back to earth enhances the book.
“We keep talking today about farming,” he says. “This guy grows potatoes on Mars. That’s charming. We wanted someone who could talk about that aspect and what it means here.”
The Watney character is also intensely curious, a trait shared with Marggraff, whose improbable answer to aging in her mid-40s was to hop into an airplane. Now in her early 60s, Marggraff is a commercial aviator, trained for suborbital space flight.
She has authored a book, “Finding the Wow, How Dreams Take Flight at Midlife,” about becoming a pilot. As the principal investigator for Made In Space, a space experiment she developed for NASA, is currently on the International Space Station. The pilot game, “StarCatcher,” is slated for production this fall.
“I’ve created GravityGames, where students design a (zero gravity) game that is manufactured on the 0G 3D printer on the ISS by the astronauts, and played by the crew,” she said. “The Center for the Advancement of Science in Space, through NASA, is considering it as a STEM project for (ninth-grade to college) students.”
The excitement Marggraff experienced while learning to fly an airplane is nothing when compared to her experience preparing for suborbital flight.
“Training involves a simulator that ‘takes off’ like a real rocket, with the sound and feeling of being driven down into your seat.”
The gut-pinning sensation leaves behind euphoria: victory and pride from having learned to adapt and survive, suggested Marggraff.
As a missions support representative for Virgin Galactic, one of the companies preparing to offer suborbital travel to the public, and as a doctoral student at USC, working with astronauts to support their long-endurance flights, she said future space travel can be summed up in two words: “Very exciting.”