The novel chosen for the 10th annual Cambridge Community-wide Reading Program is inspired by the power of literature as a coping mechanism.
This year’s chosen book, Faith Sullivan’s “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse,” is about Nell Stillman, a mother widowed at an early age in the early 20th century in the town of Harvester, Minnesota.
Sullivan has set several of her novels in Harvester, and Stillman has made minor appearances in a couple of them before. She was introduced to readers nearly three decades ago, in Sullivan’s 1988 novel “The Cape Anne.” Sullivan knew there was more to the character than bit parts in other Harvester residents’ stories, however.
“I wanted to tell her complete story somewhere,” Sullivan said.
Several events are happening in concurrence with the communitywide read. There will be book discussions at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 13, at North Folk Winery and Thursday, April 20, at the Cambridge Public Library.
On Thursday, April 27, Sullivan will sign books at Scout & Morgan Books in Cambridge from 4-5 p.m. before discussing the book at the Isanti County Historical Society Heritage Center at 7 p.m., which will serve as the reading program’s finale.
The title of “Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse” comes from one of Nell’s favorite authors (and Faith’s), the English writer P.G. Wodehouse, most famous for creating the character Jeeves, an English valet. (Jeeves, the Wodehouse character, started the trend of nearly every butler and valet in popular culture being named Jeeves as well.) In the novel, Nell makes a point of ending her evenings with a book in her hand, often Wodehouse, no matter what is going on in her life.
“She has what you might call escapist daydreams about meeting him,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan didn’t set out to write a historical novel, she said, but she ended up winning the Langum award for historical fiction for it. The book also took her significantly longer to write than her novels normally do, a whole decade instead of her 2 1/2 year average turnaround.
“She crossed over a great deal of history,” Sullivan said of Nell Stillman. The novel covers nearly 70 years of its protagonist’s life.
“Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse” is Sullivan’s eighth novel. She is already onto her next project, which she said “grew out of ‘Wodehouse.’” Sullivan is drawn to writing partly for the reason Nell Stillman is drawn to reading.
“It’s just simply a beautiful way to escape,” Sullivan said.
The book signing won’t be Sullivan’s first time in Cambridge.
“I taught for one year in Cambridge 1,000 years ago,” she said.