Lakeland dissects “True Grit”

Karalee Manis, Managing Editor

The NEA Big Read, a National Endowment for the Arts program, came to Lakeland on Wednesday, Sept. 21 as part of the community read presented by the Mead Public Library.

Up for discussion was “True Grit” by Charles Portis, which, from the NEA Big Read pamphlet, is told in the “voice of Mattie Ross, as she recounts her youthful quest to avenge the murder of her father with the aid of a down-at-heel federal marshal named Rooster Cogburn.”

Esch Library was filled with 40 participants to talk about the book. Though mostly students, including all but one from the Fall Introduction to Honors class taught by Lucretia Crawford, associate professor of English, there were a couple community members in attendance as well.

Crawford, along with Ann Penke, director of library services, led the discussion.

Penke engaged the audience right away when she asked about the main character, “Was Mattie a real character, […] a believable character?”

For those who contributed good questions to the discussion, Crawford handed out prizes of colorful pencils and markers.

When the discussion strayed from the book to the movie adaptations, the question of why the movies were different was asked.

Alex Kerr, freshman computer science major, thought that it might have been easier to convey the endings at the times the movies were made.

“The 2010 movie was more realistic,” said Tom Epping, shuttle driver at Lakeland and Plymouth resident.

Penke added “And a John Wayne movie is going to be a John Wayne movie.”

Crawford challenged the audience and said, “Think about advancements in photography […] and how far we’ve come.”

As the discussion turned back to the book, Penke asked of the main character’s search for a marshal with a certain quality to hunt for the man who killed her father, “What do you think Mattie meant by ‘true grit?’”

Kerr offered that she was “not afraid to see what everyone else would see as […] un-faceable.”

Throughout the discussion, many students shared their opinions and related how they would feel if in the main character’s shoes. Also debated was the treatment of race and how the author approached such a subject with both subtly and progressiveness and how the contrasts played out in the book.

Again coming back to the main character and that searched-for quality, Penke asked “Do you think Mattie had true grit?”

Lauren Bruggink, freshman biochemistry major, said, “yes.” When pressed if she could have acted as Mattie did and sought the same revenge, she said, “I don’t think so, no.”

“Might there be a different kind of grit? asked Pam Engebretson, assistant professor of interdisciplinary studies. She added, “Maybe a different result can be grit.”

Crawford asked the audience why they thought Mattie brings Rooster back to her home at the end of the book.

Bruggink said, “I think that she really respects him […] and having that respect is why she brought him back,” also adding that she saw him as a father figure, which played into her decision.

The discussion then shifted to the talk about the time when the book was written and character development.

Regarding Rooster’s motivations, Jaliyah Henderson, freshman business major, said, “deep down he has a heart, he just doesn’t like to show it.”

The discussion neared its end, and Penke asked the audience, “So what did you think of the book, did you enjoy it?”

Though no one immediately spoke up, Crawford said of the students, “I’m getting some grins.”

One student said she enjoyed the book because it had a female lead while also being an adventure story and Penke said it was “a very readable book” that “had potential because it did reach a wide audience.”

Several claimed they liked it because it was realistic, which then brought up the question of how much of what we read today is realistic and do we want that? Engebretson said, “But is anything?”

She further commented that maybe we want to read the post-apocalyptic Divergent-style stories because we are all traumatized by the realities of today, like the current election.

Overall, the book read was a success. It was well attended, had many vocal participants and touched on topics that related both to the book and the outside world.

The next book discussion of “True Grit” in the NEA Big Read series will be held on Saturday, Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. at Sheboygan King Park at the fire ring for a campfire book discussion.

On Thursday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m., the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Theatre will be screening the 2010 version of “True Grit” starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon.

The Old West Poetry Contest is open until Oct. 15, more information found here, which is being judged by the Jacob and Lucille Fessler Professor of Creative Writing and Poet in Residence Karl Elder.

For more information about upcoming book discussions in the Big Read series, or for other events, check the Esch Library for a pamphlet or click here to visit the Mead Public Library website for a full list of events and information.

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