Chautauquans of all ages devour books. All over the grounds people have their hands on hardcovers and paperbacks, their eyes riveted to e-books and their ears tuned to audio books.
Many line up for book signings, passing the time critiquing authors, characters and plots. Others make a beeline from Children’s School, Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and outside the grounds to the kids’ section of the Smith Memorial Library.
Readers abound within the Chautauqua Women’s Club, too. Last year its “Chautauqua Speaks” series showcased the Chautauqua Bookstore. This time — at 9:15 a.m. Thursday at the CWC House — it will spotlight the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle and the Smith.
A three-person panel comprising Library Director Scott Ekstrom, CLSC Veranda Manager Judi Griggs, and CLSC Activities Coordinator Jeff Miller will discuss “All the Ways that Chautauquans Can Access Books.”
Ekstrom, a native of Chautauqua County, was educated at Houghton College, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and King’s College London. Prior to working for faith-based, not-for-profit organizations in New York City, he was an actor and English teacher. In 2015, he took charge of the Smith, which is open year-round, having served for several years in the book department of the Bookstore.
“Today’s readers read books in a variety of formats and we provide that,” Ekstrom said. “They can borrow or buy books. We have an ongoing basement book sale; there’s a special deal for people who buy a bag full of books.”
CLSC books are available, too — in all available formats.
“We’re part of a shared system and can only purchase so many licenses, so there’s no competition with the Bookstore,” he said.
Ekstrom is the library’s only full-time employee year-round. During the season, his staff triples. He said his office is “like an open kitchen; very, very open,” and he’s happy to interface with patrons.
Griggs started out in journalism at St. Bonaventure University. Initially she interned at the Buffalo (Evening) News and wrote a humor column syndicated by the Air Force News Service. During the 1980s she covered bank failure, savings and loan fraud, and bankruptcy for the San Antonio Business Journal and San Antonio Light.
Moving to Houston, Griggs launched specialty tabloids on residential real estate and Texas horse racing, and became a senior writer at the Houston Chronicle. Later she immersed herself in corporate communications for a horse track, real estate company and resort.
Returning to Buffalo in 2004, Griggs joined western New York’s largest PR firm, as well as a development company, and promoted the symphony. Currently she is a director at a Houston PR agency and writes for the Chronicle.
Last season Griggs trained with longtime CLSC Veranda manager, Peg Snyder, to learn how to promote the CLSC, explain its purpose and procedures, sell books, maintain class records and monitor individual progress toward graduation.
“The idea of spending the summer talking about books with people who love to read, what’s better than that?” Griggs said. “If there’s more than one person in the Veranda, at least one climbed trees and read books as a kid.”
Griggs also said as she was training last summer, she was hearing authors she respected say they had been to Martha’s Vineyard and other places where books are popular, yet nowhere had they seen readers like those at Chautauqua.
For 40 years, lifelong summer Chautauquan Miller has coordinated the CLSC’s “undergraduate” activities, including its annual Vigil, Recognition and Bryant days.
Miller earned a Bachelor of Arts in English at Bethany College and a master’s in Literature and Cultural Theory at Carnegie Mellon University. An English teacher, and the head boys and girls tennis coach at Shady Side Academy in Pittsburgh since 1982, he has been playing in Chautauqua’s Sharpe Field softball league since the early 1970s.
“The CLSC is selling the idea of reading and a course of reading,” Miller said. “CLSC books are chosen to take you into worlds you don’t know, like architecture and biography. In general, people may say that they don’t like a book, but they don’t say that about CLSC books.”
That opinion stands, even when a book includes graphic or unsettling moments.
“This is not the Book of the Month Club,” Griggs said. “There are books that make some people uncomfortable. We’re offering the opportunity to be challenged. [This is] a book list read all over the world.”
Miller said in Chautauqua books are sold, then read one, two, three times. Even among the kids. This year, there are 10 books each on the reading lists for the CLSC and the CLSC Young Readers program. Once the books are read, they must be discussed.
“People want to read. It’s a solitary activity,” Miller said. “Then they want to connect.”