Tom Mack

The cast of "Rich in Love," is pictured. The film will be screened Sept. 13 at the Aiken County Public Library as part of the Let's Talk About It book discussion series.

“This is more than your average book club,” is the first line on the informative flyer advertising the latest “Let’s Talk About It” book discussion series at the Aiken County Public Library.

Indeed, thanks to the hard work of library manager Jessica Christian, who applied for and received a grant from S.C. Humanities, our state’s program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the upcoming series is the first of its kind in our state. From September to February, Aiken readers will have a chance to read five novels by modern South Carolina writers, watch the film adaptations of those works and participate in a follow-up discussion of each book and film hosted by a humanities scholar.

The series begins on Sept. 13 with a screening of the movie “Rich in Love,” a 1993 adaptation of the novel of the same title by Charleston native Josephine Humphreys. Starring Albert Finney and Jill Clayburgh, the film is inspired by Humphreys’ 1987 narrative of 17-year-old Lucille Odom’s attempts to keep her family together after her mother’s desertion after 27 years of marriage. Over the course of the book and film, young Lucille discovers something about herself while simultaneously redefining the concept of “family.” I will be leading the discussion of both the book and the film (with plenty of specially assembled background material) on Sept. 20.

James Dickey’s modern classic “Deliverance” is the second work to be covered in the series. Screening of the 1972 film based on the 1970 novel is set for Oct. 18; it features one of the best roles ever played by Burt Reynolds as alpha male Lewis Medlock. The plot centers around the unexpected consequences of the decision by four Atlanta residents to confront the wilderness of northeastern Georgia. The book/film discussion on Oct. 25 will be led by Dr. Andrew Geyer, who actually studied with James Dickey at USC in Columbia during the author’s 25-year residency at that institution of higher learning.

The third book/film showcased in the upcoming series is Pat Conroy’s “Prince of Tides.” This is perhaps the author’s best known work; certainly the 1991 film adaptation, starring Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte, received more critical attention than the other three films based on his books. Conroy, who is buried on St. Helena’s Island and is most associated with his adopted town of Beaufort, set most of this particular saga of the fictional Wingo family in the Carolina Lowcountry. Starting with his 1972 memoir “The Water is Wide,” the author is credited with having been the first significant modern chronicler of life on the Sea Islands of South Carolina. The film screening is set for Nov. 15 and the discussion led by Dr. Todd Hagstette for Nov. 29.

After a holiday recess, the series will resume on Jan. 10 with a screening of the 1997 movie “Clover” based on the 1990 novel of the same title by Dori Sanders. Still resident on her family’s farm, one of the oldest African-American-owned agricultural properties in York County, Sanders set her first novel in a small South Carolina community as experienced by a 10-year-old protagonist navigating and ultimately surmounting the racial barriers set in her path. The discussion set for Jan. 17 will be led by Dr. Matt Miller, one of whose academic specialties is African-American literature.

The final offering of the series is Ron Rash’s “Serena.” A native of Chester, and a professor at Western Carolina University since 2003, Rash wrote his fourth novel in 2008; it was made into a film in 2015. The screening is scheduled for Febr. 21, and the discussion led by Appalachian literature specialist Vicki Collins is set for Feb. 28. Like other Rash novels that explore environmental issues in the Southern Appalachians, “Serena” focuses on the machinations of timber baron George Pemberton and his wife Serena as they plot the wholesale deforestation of great swaths of North Carolina in the 1930s.

Registration starts  Aug. 6. Anyone signing up for the free series can pick up library copies of all five books beginning on that date. Local residents do not, however, have to register for the series to attend any of the free screenings and/or discussions. If you already have your own copy of the book or have seen its film adaptation, you are welcome to attend each discussion without registering. With the exception of the screening of “Prince of Tides,” which begins at 6:30 p.m., all series offerings start at 7 p.m. Due to mature content – three of the films are rated R – the series is geared to those of 18 or older. For more information, visit abbe-lib.org or call 803-642-2020 x.1131.

A recipient of the Governor’s Award in the Humanities, Dr. Mack holds the rank of USC Distinguished Professor Emeritus. Of his six books to date, three are devoted to colorful local history: “Circling the Savannah,” “Hidden History of Aiken County,” and “Hidden History of Augusta.”