In 1986, Italian author Italo Calvino wrote an amazing essay “Why Read the Classics?” (later published in a book of literary essays with the same name) exploring 14 reasons why we should read classic literature. Among his reasoning, Calvino says that “every rereading of a classic is as much a voyage of discovery as the first reading” and that a classic book is “never finished saying what it has to say.” So, while you may have read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter back in U.S. Literature class, Calvino suggests that the story still has something to offer that’s new or different.
With this spirit of exploration, participants in the Library District’s Rekindle the Classics book discussion series take the voyage of new discovery together, reading, discussing, and enjoying influential works like The Canterbury Tales, The Left Hand of Darkness, or The Portrait of an Artist as Young Man. The mix of readers of different ages, backgrounds, and interests brings a unique dynamic to the group’s discussion and interpretation of the literature. For some, this is the first time they’ve encountered a particular classic or author while for others it may be their second or even third reading.
“I have been going to this program from the first meeting and have found it always exciting,” says Ravitte Kentwortz, a library enthusiast and Rekindle the Classics participant. “The level of discussion is intellectually stimulating, and I always learn new things about the book discussed.”
The Rekindle the Classics series was conceived by Dr. Ellen Brinks, professor of literature at Colorado State University, and launched in January 2016 as collaboration between CSU’s English Department and Poudre River Public Library District. Graduate students and English department faculty choose classic works and facilitate open community discussions about the book.
Dr. Brinks has high hopes for the Rekindle the Classics series: supporting and fostering community literacy, promoting the reading of literature, encouraging more cooperative ventures with the Library District, and providing graduate students with meaningful professional opportunities.
“I’m very pleased overall with the success of the program so far,” offers Dr. Brinks. “I’d love to see larger audiences consistently, but appreciate that the ‘draw’ is often text specific.”
Currie Meyer, Council Tree Library Manager and Rekindle the Classics program coordinator, works closely with CSU to create an open and welcoming environment where all participants feel comfortable contributing to the discussion and asking questions.
“We have very bright and enthusiastic facilitators who lend a level of expertise to each text that participants appreciate,” Currie explains. “Everyone appreciates the literature but also the camaraderie and exchange of ideas and opinions.”
The group digs through the layers of complexity in each book to get more out of it than perhaps might be understood reading a classic work on one’s own. The pursuit is similar to visiting an art museum and using a guidebook to help you better understand and appreciate a great painter’s work, Currie suggests; but in this case, the story is the canvas and participants and facilitators are one another’s guides.
To create an even more unique experience, the Rekindle the Classics group meets at Wolverine Farm Publick House in Fort Collins to enjoy its casual atmosphere and community connections. Owner, Todd Simmons, graciously opened the space to the program, supporting community engagement and the literary arts. Conversation takes place over tea, coffee, or beer in a comfortable open environment that fosters the atmosphere and appeal of the program.
“The venue is wonderful,” says Dr. Brinks, “and I love bringing awareness of the Publick House and its programming to our audience.”
To read a great classic in adulthood is an extraordinary pleasure different from reading it as a student in school. Even as the books may remain the same over time, we have, as Calvino points out, “most certainly changed, and our encounter will be an entirely new thing.”
Please join the Rekindle the Classics voyage at Wolverine Farm Publick House (316 Willow St, Fort Collins). Everyone is welcome. Copies of books are available for checkout or download (eBook, audiobook) through the Library District. For more information, please call the Answer Center at 970-221-6740.