Connected \\ May 8, 2020

PEMreads together

When I read, it feels like I’m meeting new people. Sometimes in college, I would stay inside while friends would go to a party or dinner, just to see what happened to the characters. Once I walked from the Harvard T stop directly into the Sheraton Commander Hotel lobby to sit and finish the last page of East of Eden. I could not wait until I got home.


With more time at home right now, many of us are turning to books to calm our nerves, learn something new or simply escape the sobering facts and magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic. While we are all socially distant, we are paradoxically deeply connected through this shared experience.

A Buddha in the Attic book cover

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka. Courtesy photo.


For PEMreads, the museum’s book club, we are connecting online and hosting our first virtual event on Wednesday, May 20 from 4:30–5:30 pm. We will discuss The Buddha in the Attic, an award-winning novel by celebrated author Julie Otsuka. All are welcome to participate in this virtual conversation and we will send more details once you RSVP.

Four times a year, a group of members, patrons, staff and neighbors get together to discuss a book that they democratically select. Susan Robie, a PEM Overseer, is an avid reader and wanted to launch this book club as a way to gather new friends to discuss novels that link to PEM’s mission in some way.


Rebecca Ehrhardt, Susan Robie and Jami Powell at PEMreads. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


A regular PEMreads attendee and GenPEM member Kim Parker, a Salem public school teacher, shares: “PEM is one of the most important meeting places for me in my community. I am grateful to be a part of PEMreads. Reading and talking about books with the other members enriches my own reading experience because I am able to hear how other members register the book through their own individual experiences and values. Exploring literature with other thoughtful members of the community allows us to not just experience the richness of the authors’ work but to experience the richness of our own community.”

Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


PEMreads is one of my favorite projects. I get to read another book and connect with our PEM community in an authentic way. I hear what others think about the characters and how themes relate to a PEM exhibition, collection area or program. For two PEMreads gatherings, we held exhibition tours prior to our discussion, one with EIMA member and PEM guide Walter Meibaum, and the other with Lydia Gordon, PEM’s Associate Curator for Exhibitions and Research. We’ve hosted Tedi Asher, PEM’s neuroscience researcher, along with curators, executive team members, Native American Fellows, library staff and Mary Kennedy, the wife of PEM Director Brian Kennedy. It’s such a wonderful combination of people from the PEM community that might otherwise not cross paths in this way.

In addition to reading, many of us have turned to online platforms for social connection. On April 23, I co-hosted a Q&A session with producer and director DeMane Davis. This virtual event for our GenPEM community was co-hosted with PEM’s Curator of the Present Trevor Smith. During this conversation, we heard about Davis’ work as a producer and director of Self Made, a miniseries that aired on Netflix March 20. For those of you looking for a new show, I highly recommend it. Afterward, watch the Q&A for insight into Davis’ artistic process.


Octavia Spencer with Producer and Director DeMane Davis on the set of Self Made.

Octavia Spencer with Producer and Director DeMane Davis on the set of Self Made.


Join us Wednesday, May 20 to discuss The Buddha in the Attic. We hope you take our reading list and make it your own:

August 2, 2017 Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

October 4, 2017 Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

December 6, 2017 Georgia by Dawn Tripp

March 28, 2017 Sapiens by Yuval Noah Sapiens

June 20, 2018 Empress Dowager Cixi by Jung Chang

August 8, 2018 The Aesthetic Brain by Anjan Chatterjee

September 26, 2018 The Art of Rivalry by Sebastian Smee

December 12, 2018 Wade in the Water: Poems by Tracy K. Smith

February 13, 2019 Leadership: In Turbulent Times by Doris Kearns Goodwin

May 15, 2019 Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover

August 21, 2019 There, There: a Novel by Tommy Orange

November 13, 2019 Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

February 5, 2020 The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

May 20, 2020 The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

A front view of the East India Marine Hall and the new wing

“Hope anchors the soul.” Photo by Paige Besse/PEM.


The PEM staff wishes everyone health, safety and calm during the COVID-19 shutdown. Museums provide light and inspiration during challenging times. We will be creative in maintaining PEM’s relationship with you in this time of crisis. We look forward to welcoming you back to the museum when the public health crisis has subsided. For more information and updates, please visit pem.org and keep in touch through our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

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