Cuesta Book of the Year returns in March

March 1, 2012

Peter Lovenheim

Community and the neighborhoods we call home is the theme of Cuesta College’s Book of the Year that brings author Peter Lovenheim to the college’s Cultural and Performing Arts Center on March 27.

Organizers of this year’s event, which includes a slate of cultural activities, book discussions and workshops scheduled throughout the county in March, hope Lovenheim’s book —  “In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time” — will encourage county residents and readers alike to reconsider what the concept of community means in the 21st century.

Lovenheim, a journalist whose articles and essays have appeared in the New York Times and other publications, teaches writing at Rochester Institute of Technology. For most of his life, he’s lived on the same sedate street in suburban Rochester, N.Y.

A dozen years ago — on Feb. 29, 2000 — a tragedy occurred in this upper-middle class neighborhood. An orthopedic specialist shot his wife, a family physician, and then killed himself in the red-brick Tudor home just down the street from Lovenheim’s home. The couple’s two children, then aged 12 and 13, ran from the house screaming into the quiet night.

“A whole family disappeared from the street, and the effect on the neighborhood seemed quite slight,” Lovenheim wrote. “How could that be? I knew them only casually. Nobody knew them well. That seemed odd to me that a whole family could be here and only be acquaintances.”

That began Lovenheim’s odyssey to meet and get to know those neighbors. But the writer did more than just introduce himself; he asked, ever so politely, if he could sleep over.

“We were attracted to the book because it literally speaks volumes about lifestyle and how we live,” said Carina Love, who heads the college’s Book of the Year committee that has sponsored this countywide program since 2009. “And the book is a natural for discussion because it poses many questions about isolation in the modern world.

“What is your relationship to your neighbors? Do you feel comfortable running across the street to ask one for help? How many neighbors do you actually know and interact with? Is that a good thing or not.”

Lovenheim will discuss what he learned on his quest to transform neighbors into friends and answer even larger societal issues on the main stage of Cuesta’s CPAC on the college’s San Luis Obispo campus. This free talk, reception and book signing from 5 to 7 p.m. also includes free parking in Lot No. 2.

Leading up to the author talk are several ancillary events — as well as other activities associated with county libraries, which are hosting their own activities in conjunction with the Book of the Year. Here’s a list:

• Art After Dark, Friday, March 2, 7-8 p.m.
There’ll be a public reading event at the History Center of San Luis Obispo County, 696 Monterey St., San Luis Obispo. Hear people read stories and histories about their favorite neighborhoods — present and past.

• Cohousing as a Lifestyle, Saturday, March 17, 1-2:30 p.m.
Tour Oak Creek Commons, 635 Nicklaus Drive in Paso Robles, a 36-home subdivision that offers an alternative take on  community for families, couples and singles. A Q&A follows tour. Limited parking; carpooling urged. RSVP: 546-3100, ext. 2287.

• Shades of Green: Local Groups that Grow Our Neighborhood, Saturday, March 24, 1-3 p.m.
Come to the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden, Oak Glen Pavilion, to discover what Small Wilderness Area Preservation (SWAP), GleanSLO, Cuesta Student Grassroots Club, SLO Botanical Garden & Transition Towns are doing to improve the community. Refreshments and tours of botanical garden, which is across Highway 1 from Cuesta College. Free parking. For more info, call 541-1400.

• Portrait of a Neighborhood: Mitchell Park, Now and Then, Sunday, March 25, 3-4:30 p.m.
Meet at Mitchell Park, at Osos & Pismo streets in San Luis Obispo, and join Linnaea Phillips, Dean Miller & Eric Meyer at the park bandstand for a guided walking tour of the neighborhood, exploring its early railroad roots  to its current mixed-use character. A reception and Q&A follows at historic  Avila House. Space is limited. RSVP: 546-3100, ext. 2287.

For more information about the Book of the Year and its film festival, shown on the San Luis Obispo and North County campuses, visit

Author photo: Jamie Columbus

Book of the Year Film Festival schedule

“The Gleaners & I” (“Les Ganeurs et la Glaneuse”)
Tuesday, March 20, noon-1 pm  •  Cuesta Library, SLO campus, Room 3219 Monday, March 26, 1-2:15 pm  •  North County campus, Room N2401
This French documentary (with English subtitles) explores the history of those who gather crops left over from harvest and their modern day counterparts who gather what others have left behind. 2000. 78 minutes.

“Building Community: It’s An Art”
Wednesday, March 21, noon-12:30 pm  •  Cuesta Library, SLO campus, Room 3219
Wednesday, March 28, 1-1:30 pm  •  North County campus, Room N2401
This Minnesota League of Cities documentary examines the ways in which public art, galleries, murals, music & poetry provide pleasure and beauty while bringing together local residents. 2010. 27 minutes.

“Green Cities:  Leading the Way”
Wednesday, March 21, 12:30-1 pm  •  Cuesta Library, SLO campus, Room 3219
Wednesday, March 28, 1:30-2 pm  •  North County campus, Rm N2401
This documentary gives an overview of how large & small Midwestern cities transformed themselves through recycling, banning plastic bags, energy conservation and more. 2008. 30 minutes.

“Father G and the Homeboys”
Wed., March 28, noon-2 pm  •  Cuesta Library, SLO campus, Room 3219 Wednesday, April 4, 1-3 pm  •  North County campus, Room N2401Filmmaker John Bohm chronicles the inspiring work of Jesuit priest Father Gregory Boyle, who for two decades has helped L.A. gang members turn their lives around. Actor Martin Sheen narrates. 2007. 101 minutes.

“Young@Heart: You’re Never Too Old to Rock”
Monday, March 26, noon-2 pm  •  Cuesta Library, SLO campus, Room 3219
Tuesday, April 3, 2-4 pm  •  North County campus, Rm N2401
Follow Young@ Heart, a chorus made up of seniors (whose average age is 81), as the group rehearses covers of rock songs for a concert and a European tour. Whether singing James Brown or Coldplay, this closely bonded community celebrates the life-affirming power of music. 2008. 108 minutes.

Film festival events are free, but you’ll need to purchase a $2 parking permit.