AMY J. BARRY, Special to the Day
Despite dire predictions of a dying publishing industry, book sales are actually higher than a decade ago, and book clubs continue to be a popular staple in local communities.
Several shoreline residents have taken the living room book club concept a few giant steps further and created a super-sized version with the first ever Big Book Club Getaway on Feb. 1 and 2 at Mohegan Sun.
Susan McCann, owner of Essex Books at Gather in Ivoryton and an educational media consultant for Sesame Workshop, came up with the concept with Old Saybrook residents Colleen Doyle LaFrancois, of Colleen LaFrancois Marketing, and her husband Roger LaFrancois, a former Major League Baseball player with the Boston Red Sox and director of the World Baseball Coaches' Convention.
McCann says after meeting and talking with the LaFrancoises "the idea just sort of bubbled-we have great synergy working together with our three expertises."
She says they pitched Mohegan Sun with the idea of "a large and wonderful event for books clubs and the (general public) that celebrates community and coming together."
The program is packed with best-selling, award-winning authors who will talk with attendees about their fiction and nonfiction works.
There are panels on every subject: sports, romance, mystery and suspense. Sex therapists will converse about the "Fifty Shades of Grey" phenomenon. Harvard physicians will discuss relationships, stress management, brainpower and creativity. Rick Wolff, host of "The Sports Edge" on New York's WFAN Radio will moderate a sports panel.
There is also a presentation by Sister Cities-residents of Essex and surrounding towns that are building a library in Haiti.
And, Jeff Kamin, (moderator of Minnesota's "Books & Bars" public radio book club show) will lead a book club discussion of Hank Phillippi Ryan's new release, "The Other Woman," on Friday night at Bobby Flay's Bar Americain.
Sponsoring the event, in addition to Mohegan Sun, is "Chicken Soup for the Soul," Connecticut Humanities, and area independent bookstores Bank Square Books of Mystic and R.J. Julia Booksellers of Madison.
The Alzheimer's Association will receive a portion of proceeds. McCann explains its primary objective is to raise awareness about the disease that affects more than 5.4 million Americans annually and is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.
Kristen Cusato, former WTNH anchorperson and Southwest Regional director of the Alzheimer's Association CT chapter, will emcee Friday night's program, featuring Gary Small, M.D., author of "The Alzheimer's Prevention Program" and a frequent expert guest on national TV. Mystic resident Teresa Norris, author of "Almost Home - How I Lost My Mother Without Losing My Mind: A Faith Journey," will share her personal journey of having a parent with dementia, and Leeza Gibbons, talk show host and author of " Take Your Oxygen First: Protecting Your Health and Happiness While Caring for a Loved One with Memory Loss," will give a keynote address and discuss the role of the caregiver.
McCann stresses that she and her co-organizers felt it was extremely important to tap into the wealth of published authors in the community. These include Carlos Eire, Yale professor and winner of the National Book Award for Non-Fiction; The History Press author panel of Connecticut historians and teachers; and UConn professor, author and humorist Gina Barecca.
"We've included authors we've known, authors who have new books, but mostly, we're saying it's a collaboration of pop culture, brains, books and fun all coming together," McCann says.
The positive power
of 'Chicken Soup'
In keeping with the popular "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series, Amy Newmark, publisher, co-author/editor, will speak on the power of storytelling and positive thinking and provide complimentary books for all attendees.
Published here in Connecticut, in the small town of Cos Cob, the series is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year with 200 titles in 40 languages and book sales topping 112 million in the US and Canada alone.
Newmark attributes the success of the inspirational books to their signature personal stories that resonate with readers.
"If you think about yourself and anyone you know, anything that happens to you-a good thing or a bad thing-you want to reach out to someone you know and talk about it," Newmark says. "People love to give and receive advice, especially from their peers. We share personal anecdotes in all the books, so no matter what your reason is for reading a particular book, you'll find at least 10 stories that make an incredible connection for you."
Newmark explains that from the very beginning, everyone has been welcome to submit their personal stories and thousands of stories are submitted for each book via the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" website, which are narrowed down to 101 stories for every book.
"We read every single story submitted," she says.
Authors are paid $200 for each story that's accepted and receive 10 free copies of the book-they also retain the rights to their stories.
Newmark clears up a misconception by some that "Chicken Soup…." is a Christian publishing company.
"Most of our books are secular," she says. "We're for everyone. We don't discriminate against anyone-we have stories from gay couples, from transgender youth, in our youth books.
"Plenty of the books are just plain fun and entertaining," she adds. "They're not all serious self-help books."
But there is an overriding theme in all the books, whatever the subject matter-and that's positive thinking.
"I personally can't stand negative thinking, negative people, who always feel sorry for themselves and are always complaining, so I don't let those people into our books," Newmark says. "People can always see the positive in things and write a constructive story with a positive message, no matter what they've been through."
In her talk, Newmark will discuss the newest book in the series: "Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive," published this past fall.
"I'm going to talk about the power of positive thinking, the power of storytelling, and pursuing your passions and re-finding yourself and what makes you happy," she says. "I'm also going to talk about writing and give some writing tips-not only for writing (for publication) but for getting those emotions out and clarifying your thinking."
Newmark says the most powerful lesson she's learned since becoming publisher 5 ½ years ago and reading tens of thousands of stories is the resilience of the human spirit.
"I've learned how really strong people are, how tough they are, and able to overcome challenges and move on with their lives, even after horrible things have happened," she says. "It's really inspiring to be in my job and read all these stories from ordinary people who've done extraordinary things. It's a really good time to be doing that-especially in this state that thought it was suffering from Hurricane Sandy, and saw that was nothing compared to (what happened) in Newtown."