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Beyond the Book club

The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor has announced its third season of Beyond the Book club. After two successful seasons of this unique, thematic book club, the museum has gained a consistent member base. Even so, there is still room for more bookish folks enamored with the sea to participate. Participants will enjoy fascinating stories paired with the museum’s collection and a special matching snack.

This unique book club series has the museum education team hand selecting texts that are inspired by the sea and utilizes the museum’s collection of over 6,000 artifacts to bring club members closer to the story. Participants are invited to make connections, personal and historical, through up close interactions with relevant objects and facts from Long Island’s maritime past.

Through this tangible way of interacting with objects, book clubbers are immersed in the theme of the text and find new perspectives to understand the narrative. In addition, the museum education team pairs a special snack with the text for each session, further engaging participants. 

Liz Cousins, a participant in this past fall and spring book club sessions, had this to say about Beyond the Book — “Thanks again for putting this book club together! I’m not usually a “book club” type  […] but THIS, I LOVE.” The Whaling Museum’s book club aims to gain a new audience of readers through this unique approach. 

The January session will take place on Jan. 25. Book clubbers will gather to discuss The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery followed by an examination of historical documents from the museum’s collection that reveal how 19th century whalers viewed whales and how these views have changed over time.

The February session will take place on Feb. 29 featuring Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave, Ona Judge by Erica Armstrong Dunbar. Enjoy an intimate look at the museum’s special exhibit From Sea to Shining Sea: Whalers of the African Diaspora and discover the surprising role the whaling industry played in carrying people to freedom.

Lastly, on March 28, book clubbers will gather to discuss Ahab’s Wife, or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. Participants will inspect artifacts and writings left behind by Cold Spring Harbor whaling wives to see how closely Naslund’s fiction imitates fact.

“It has been an absolute joy to watch our book club continue to grow and to be a part of the wonderful community that has formed during these sessions.  We can’t wait to share more of our collection and explore new stories with this group in the new year,” said Brenna McCormick-Thompson, Curator of Education.

Each book club meeting will start at 6:30 p.m. and is approximately 1 hour long. Coffee (compliments of Starbucks of Huntington Village), tea and cookies will be served.

Beyond the Book club sessions are free for museum members and patrons of the museum’s partner libraries, Huntington Public Library and South Huntington Public Library. All others may attend for $15 per session. Register at www.cshwhalingmuseum.org/bookclub. For more information, call 631-367-3418.

This article originally appeared in TBR News Media’s Prime Times senior supplement on 01/25/24.

Beyond the Book club members discuss 'In the Heart of the Sea' on March 23

The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor  hosted its first session of Beyond the Book club on March 23. This month’s club read the book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathanial Philbrick; however anyone that read this book, or anything related to the topic of the Essex including Moby Dick were invited to attend and participate.

Book club members gather around the museum’s whaleboat The Daisy

The club session hosted an audience of over a dozen people from the community including patrons of the Huntington and South Huntington Libraries who attend the club sessions for free through the book club’s partnership program. Upon registration, participants received a short video introducing the book and offering a discussion question to consider while reading.

Beyond the Book is more than a book club in that participants are invited to read the monthly text and then meet at the museum to dive deeper into the stories through connections with the museum’s collection. Book club meetings are led by museum educators to facilitate talks and share about museum artifacts that enhance discussions on the selected topic in literature and/or film. 

Brenna McCormick-Thompson, Curator of Education, The Whaling Museum & Education Center, shared feedback on the museum’s March book club session. “We used our collection to bring the past to life in a completely new and fun way. We got to gather around our historic whaleboat and imagine ourselves in the heart of the story. It was a great group discussion with everyone sharing different perspectives and highlighting parts of the book in new ways,” she said.

Members were invited to try hard tack crackers.

In addition to engaging with the museum’s artifacts, club goers were invited to taste test an authentic recipe for hard tack crackers, the whalers only food supply for months. The taste test table displayed the daily allotment of water and hard tack that the Essex crew needed to make their provisions last as long as possible.

The museum received positive comments from attendees through anonymous survey responses. One survey responder said their favorite part of the session was “… the combination of viewing of the whaleboat and other artifacts, along with the discussion of the book. The facilitator was great!” Another survey responder commented “Get the word out! You are a hidden gem!”

There are two sessions left— on April 27 and May 25—before the club breaks for the summer and then returns in the fall. Book club sessions are scheduled monthly on Thursday evenings at 6:30pm. Each meeting is approximately 1 hour long, and participants will enjoy coffee or tea and cookies while they chat about the text and make meaningful connections with the guidance of  the museum’s education staff.

On April 27 the book club will feature Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates by David Cordingly which explores the golden age of piracy and the truth behind many pirate legends. The educator-led talk and discussion will highlight the life of Huntingtonian Enoch Conklin (1763-ca.1815) a privateer during the War of 1812 as well as a ship builder, sailor and captain. Artifacts relating to Conklin’s life will be showcased for participants to see and explore.

On May 25, the book club will feature Spying on Whales: The Past, Present, and Future of Earth’s Most Awesome Creatures by Nick Pyenson who unearths the incredible history of whales, from their small four-legged land ancestors to the ocean-dwelling giants we know today. In this session, the group will explore the biology of these creatures first-hand through the museum’s collection of bones and fossils. Discover the amazing adaptations that helps whales navigate their marine environment, while learning about modern threats to the future of these animals.

Beyond the Book club sessions are free for museum members and patrons of  the museum’s partner libraries. All others may attend for $15 per session. Registration is online at cshwhalingmuseum.org/bookclub. For more information, call 631-367-3418.

Photos courtesy of The Whaling Museum