Birds, Borders, and Dyslexia

by Brianna Kuplent

Horizon Reporter

“Brandon traveled the streets of his life now more than ever, getting paid, so it seemed, to do what he’d always loved doing, to look closely at everything over and over again.”

                                    -Excerpt from “Border Songs,” pgs. 1-2

Brandon Vanderkool, the main character in “Border Songs,” is a six foot eight dyslexic avid bird watcher, who discovers the world of drug smugglers and terrorists as he embarks on his new job as a border patrol officer.

Whatcom Community College is hosting Jim Lynch to discuss his new book in the Syre Student Center on February 24 at 1:30 p.m. and again at 7:30 p.m..

Lynch “says something different every time,” said Linda Lambert, the library director for Whatcom who has heard the author speak three times. “He’s very engaging and a very good author to hear.”

Bob Winters, an English and composition professor at Whatcom, who posed for a library poster reading Lynch’s books, described him as “very down-to-earth.” Winters has interviewed Lynch before at other public events, and will sit down with Lynch again when he comes to Whatcom. “I found him really easy to engage with. He’s just a very charming and funny speaker.”

Lynch grew up in Olympia, Wash., but as a journalist traveled across the country before writing about the Canada-United States border and the changes since 9/11. The inspiration for his new book “Border Songs” grew out of Lynch’s experiences traveling with the border patrol, passing dairy farms, and learning about birds.

“What surprised me most about “Border Songs” was how well Jim understood the culture of the Northern County, and our relationship to Canada,” said Winters. “I think “Border Songs” gives us a really sort of complex insight into our own personalities and sense of place. It takes someone from the outside to hold a mirror up to us and show us who we are.”

The program behind the events is WhatcomREADS!, featuring the book by Lynch this month. The purpose of Whatcom County’s program, that started three years ago when the state offered a grant called “One Book,” is for a community to read a particular book and have book discussions.

“It’s not always easy choosing a book,” said Lambert. “We have to think about a book that would appeal to the community. It’s a very collaborative effort.”

When picking a book for the program, a committee also considers who is available and if the county can afford them, said Lambert. A committee of six to eight librarians from across the county decides on a book that the public could benefit from. The featured books have a common theme, a coming-of-age story that is relatable to a majority of readers.

The author the first year, 2009, was Sherman Alexie, featuring his book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” about a 14-year-old Indian who leaves the reservation to attend an all-white school. About 1,000 people came to hear him.

Last year featured Tobias Wolff, the author of “Old School” that whose main character keeps up appearances to fit into an English prep school. Approximately 440 people came to hear Wolff speak on campus.

“We like to have a local connection in every case,” said Lambert, who added that the previous authors were both from Washington state. Sherman Alexie is a native Spokane Indian and Tobias Wolff is originally from Concrete, Wash.

Aside from the events in Syre, Lynch will visit Wendy Borgesen’s English 101 class on February 23 at Whatcom.

Several copies of “Border Songs” have been passed throughout Whatcom for students to read, then “release” when they’re done reading them. When the student is finished with the book, they are supposed to leave it somewhere for another person to read. Those books have the sticker stating “Free Book! Read and Release.”

“It is continually passed out,” said Lambert about the copy of the book at the library. The library has one copy, but there are another 15 “read and release” books that were passed out at bus stops, bathrooms, and post offices.

The book can be purchased online at bookcrossing.com and at Village Books for $15 and one of Lynch’s other books, “The Highest Tide,” sells for $8.99.

“I like his writing,” said Lambert, as she flips open “Border Songs” to where Lynch describes his character, Brandon, as an “unfinished sculpture.”

“I don’t know if I would necessarily read a book about the border, or ornithology, or dyslexia,” said Lambert. But, she added, “I’m impressed with people who describe things in a dazzling way.”

Winters agrees. “He shapes words into very rich figures of speech,” he said. “I think that the theme that draws me the most of “Border Songs” and “The Highest Tide” as well, is looking closely at things and paying attention, noticing things that we miss.”


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