By Mac Cerullo
---- — AMESBURY — If you’re out and about in town over the next couple of weeks, don’t be surprised if you stumble on a seemingly stray book. Chances are you were meant to find it.
The Amesbury Public Library will be sprinkling copies of Nathaniel Philbrick’s “In the Heart of the Sea” around town as part of its second annual On the Same Page community read program, which is set to begin later this week.
The program will function like a citywide book discussion group, where the library will encourage residents to read a book with a connection to local history and then provide them with a series of programming built around it.
This year the library will be partnering with Lowell’s Boat Shop in an effort to promote Amesbury’s shipbuilding history, and “In the Heart of the Sea” ties into that because the whaleship featured in the book, the Essex, was built in Amesbury.
The book chronicles the journey of the Essex, which launched from Nantucket in 1819 and was attacked and destroyed in the Pacific Ocean by a sperm whale.
Many of the crewmembers were killed, and over the next few months many of the survivors turned to cannibalism to stave off starvation before they were eventually rescued. The book was published in 2000 and won the U.S. National Book Award for nonfiction that same year.
“It’s this horrifying account,” said Patty DiTullio, director of the library. “And Herman Melville was on another ship around the same time this account was being written by one of the survivors. He learned about it and the whole encounter inspired him to write Moby Dick.”
Amesbury’s shipbuilding past is particularly relevant today, DiTullio said, because Lowell’s Boat Shop is in the process of building a new 19th century whaleship for the Mystic Seaport in Connecticut.
“It’s all interrelated,” DiTullio said. “The goal is to have a topic every year that the community is kind of talking about and thinking about. The books are starting to go out, all the related bibliography books will go out on a display with all of this probably at the end of the week.”
The program is primarily set to run from April to the end of May, and the highlights are expected to be a special concert by Roger Tinknell at the Senior Center, who will perform sea shanties and whaling era songs on May 2, along with a presentation by Matthew Stackpole on May 16.
Stackpole is the lead historian for the Charles W. Morgan Restoration Project in Mystic, Conn., where the ship being built by Lowell’s will go upon its completion this spring.
DiTullio said she is particularly excited that he is coming, because he’s one of the world’s leading experts on shipbuilding history and knows a lot about Amesbury’s history as well.
“He’s very knowledgeable about the Essex itself and about that story that’s in the book, but he also has worked with Lowell’s, so he knows a little bit about them,” DiTullio said. “He’s just fascinating, he’s one of those people who is just so excited about his field that it’s really infectious, like every time I call him to confirm a date we’re on the phone for half an hour.”
Other scheduled events are an open house at Lowell’s Boat Shop on April 6, a Float and Sink Science class for teenagers at the library on April 27 and a children’s sailing storytime at the library on May 16.
For a full schedule, contact the Amesbury Public Library at 978-388-8148.