Landing Q

When the committee that decides such things was discussing the next Princeton Reads book and the idea of “The Silver Linings Playbook” was floated, we were all intrigued. The committee thought this book had the potential to spark a community-wide discussion of little-discussed mental health issues, particularly stigma. We knew this would be a departure from our last Princeton Reads book, “The History of Love,” but thought a more accessible book might broaden the PReads demographic. (Translation: We thought more men might read “The Silver Linings Playbook” than read our previous Princeton Reads titles.)

Plus, this would be the first Princeton Reads book with a major motion picture tie-in, and the settings and action of the novel led to some creative programming possibilities, such as last week’s Garbage Bag Run and this week’s Flavors of Princeton event featuring Nassau Inn chef Michael LaCorte cooking tailgate favorites in the Community Room. Finally, since the author is a former public high school English teacher in New Jersey, we thought the Princeton Public Schools community might come along for the ride.

All that was left was to attempt to get an author whose first novel was turned into an Academy Award-nominated film, and who was suddenly in demand in Hollywood, to come back to New Jersey from his home in the Berkshires to speak in a school auditorium on a Friday night. Not exactly an easy feat. I was part of the team whose mission was to secure this author, Matthew Quick, who prefers to go by “Q” (and will henceforth be known only by that name). The game plan was simple: Blitz him. The execution was flawless.

Janie Hermann, who arranges many of the author events for the library, reached out with the official ask, sending the requisite letter explaining why any self-respecting author would want to appear here and pointing to the literary superstars who have appeared as part of past Princeton Reads (Chang-Rae Lee, James McBride, Chinua Achebe, Nicole Krauss). We reached out to colleagues at libraries in South Jersey who, as the saying goes, knew him back when. Even Judy Wilson, superintendent of Princeton Public Schools, got into the act, contacting Q’s former principal from his days teaching at Haddonfield Memorial High School. (Judy herself is a Haddonfield grad, as are her children.)

So we had him covered from the literary and education angles, but we needed a closer. That’s where I came in. I was uniquely qualified to reach Q on another level: our shared appreciation for the Philadelphia Eagles. So I wrote to Q and told him how much I enjoyed reading his book, how I thought its sensitive portrayal of a character dealing with mental health challenges could spur a great community discussion about this important issue.

Then, I told him how all of the guys I’d been attending Eagles games with for more than three decades loved the movie and some had read the book. I let him know that my friends and I were certain from our reading that Q was a genuine Eagles fan because a few things he wrote could only be known by someone who had watched Eagles games from the upper deck of Veterans Stadium (the notorious 700 Level).

Finally, I pointed out that Princeton is north of the Eagles/Giants line that runs through Hamilton Township and that it was likely that a few Giants fans would be upset that the library was trying to get everyone in town to read what had become known as an “Eagles book.”

Q wrote back later that night: “Your e-mail definitely has me wanting to shake your hand. Go Birds!”  

Later that week, Janie received the confirmation.

“Based on your emails (and Tim’s) I have a really good feeling about this event, and that’s why I am agreeing.”

Since then, our team has kept in touch with Q on Twitter (@MatthewQuick21), keeping him apprised of our progress. (He was particularly enthused about the Garbage Bag Run.) We’ve had people, including John Witherspoon Middle School Principal Jason Burr (@JW_Burr) review “The Silver Linings Playbook” in 140 characters. And people who have seen Q in recent talks at La Salle University (his alma mater) and at Cherry Hill Public Library have told us that we’re in for a treat.

So read the book — we have more than a 100 copies to borrow here — or attend one of our special events, including film screenings, discussions about mental health and ballroom dancing-related events. It’s all in The Playbook, which is available in a limited-edition, 100-percent-recycled mini binder at the library. (Just ask; it’s free. You can write your own playbook when you’re through reading about “The Silver Linings Playbook.”)   

Matthew Quick discusses “The Silver Linings Playbook” and his new Young Adult novel, “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock,” on Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the beautifully renovated auditorium at John Witherspoon School, 217 Walnut Lane, Princeton. The event is free. Tickets are not required.

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