In the four years that Krystyna von Henneberg has been coordinating the Davis community book project known as Davis Reads, she has tried to select books that will provoke discussions on topics that, while important, maybe aren’t talked about all that much.
The first year, she chose “The Warmth of Other Suns,” which chronicled the decades-long migration of millions of African-Americans from the South to Northern cities between 1915 and 1970. The following year, it was “Factory Girls,” which looked at the lives of migrant factory workers in China.
But the past two years, von Henneberg’s book choices have been especially prescient.
Last year’s pick, “Enrique’s Journey,” looked at illegal immigration from the perspective of a Honduran teen trying to cross the border into the United States, an issue that exploded in the news recently.
This year’s book, meanwhile, “Thank You For Your Service,” looks at life back in the United States for Gulf War soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and other war wounds.
Author David Finkel first met many of these soldiers when he embedded with a U.S. Army combat brigade in Baghdad back in 2007 and later wrote about that experience in “The Good Soldiers.” Now, his follow-up book traces these wounded warriors as they move in and out of Veterans Administration psychiatric wards and hospitals and struggle to put their home lives back together.
VA hospitals, of course, also have been in the news quite a bit of late, with the Veterans Administration coming under fire following reports of veterans dying while waiting for care.
“All of that happened right after we chose the book,” von Henneberg said Wednesday.
She said she chose “Thank You For Your Service” not because of what’s going on currently with the VA, but because it seemed so appropriate, given that this is the 100th anniversary of World War I.
“And we have a lot of veterans in our community,” she noted. “A lot of them are very proud of their service, but maybe feel invisible.”
Finkel’s book, she noted, provokes discussion on how those veterans are doing now, what they are going through and what they need.
“I think of them as our brothers and sisters and we should be their keepers,” she said. “We don’t want to abandon them and their pain.”
The book project includes several forums throughout the year, including one held at the Stephens Branch Library on Wednesday evening and a previous forum that included a local Vietnam War veteran who spoke openly and movingly about his experiences upon returning from that war. A third forum will take place in the fall.
Von Henneberg is a book lover herself, but also a historian who has taught at UC Davis, UC Berkeley and Stanford, and she brings a historian’s perspective to Davis Reads, she said.
She credits Yolo County librarian Joan Tuss for immediately agreeing to her request to start a community book project four years ago and for continuing to support the program every step of the way.
She also credits the Friends of the Library for their willingness to purchase extra copies of books chosen for Davis Reads — 10 copies of “Thank You For Your Service” this year, plus books on CD.
“They are all constantly checked out,” von Henneberg said.
Von Henneberg, meanwhile, carries the book project beyond the library, including into classrooms — she has spoken at both Da Vinci and Davis high schools about the chosen books — as well at small book clubs in town.
“Sometimes people invite me to come speak at their book club meetings, which is really lovely,” von Henneberg said.
— Reach Anne Ternus-Bellamy at [email protected] or 530-747-8051. Follow her on Twitter at @ATernusBellamy