Reading together never fails to draw parents and children closer, setting them free to enjoy Pooh or Potter in a safe space of pajamas and pillows. Adult relationships are similarly deepened when book-club friends discuss Capote or Kingsolver over coffee and cookies.
Why stop there? A shared reading experience can have an invigorating effect on an entire community. South Sound book lovers have unwrapped this gift for 10 straight years during the Pierce County Reads program each spring.
This year’s version is no different. Scores of readers have discovered “Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War,” a quirky collection of behind-the-scenes accounts by best-selling science writer Mary Roach. Copies have been checked out from Pierce County Library branches more than 3,000 times, support proclamations have been issued by 16 cities or towns, and public events have brought in around 500 people since this year’s kickoff in early March.
The 2017 program will climax Friday with the annual author presentation. Roach will be in town to speak, take audience questions and sign copies of “Grunt.”
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It’s not too late to start reading this funny and accessible book, and Roach is worth hearing even if you finish it later; each chapter is a self-contained story — a peek behind the curtain of America’s secret Defense Department labs, where weird science intersects with gross anatomy (with an emphasis on gross).
The mission of Pierce County Reads is to provoke meaningful community dialogue around the popular work of a living author. Sometimes there are Pacific Northwest ties. Last year’s author, Sherman Alexie, grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation, while the 2015 book, “Boys in the Boat,” centered on the University of Washington crew team that won gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
“Grunt” isn’t set in the Northwest, nor is Roach from here. But at its core lies a respect for those in uniform who sign up for myriad torments that seldom make the news — from diarrhea to sunstroke, from hearing loss to injured sex organs.
As JBLM observes its centennial this year, “Grunt” stands as an unconventional but fitting book choice. Think of it as a homage to the homegrown warriors who’ve made untold sacrifices since Camp Lewis was built during World War I.
An early chapter focuses on the Army’s up-armored Stryker and MRAP vehicles, the same rigs driven by thousands of JBLM soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roach illuminates issues both serious and mundane — “There is no onboard toilet. There are empty Gatorade bottles” — and details the cat-and-mouse game between Army safety engineers and insurgent bombers.
In her “Grunt” introduction, Roach writes: “I’m interested in the parts no one makes movies about — not the killing, but the keeping alive.” Rather than a spotlight operator, she calls herself “the goober with the flashlight, stumbling into corners and crannies, not looking for anything specific but knowing when I’ve found it.”
The “Grunt”-eyed view of the world is familiar to JBLM’s 35,000 troops and civilian employees, 32,000 family members and some 125,000 military retirees around the South Sound. The beauty is the way Roach makes the science of saving lives engaging to all, including folks with no Armed Forces background.
Imagine that: a community reading experience that bridges our society’s growing military-civilian divide. Now there’s a book club worth joining.
‘Grunt’ author presentation
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Clover Park Technical College, McGavick Conference Center, 4500 Steilacoom Blvd. SW.