A smiling crowd gathered on Saturday morning on Aug. 18 outside Miller Bell Tower to ring in the literary new year — and add two books to their fall reading lists.
Dave Griffith, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, commenced the annual Bryant Day celebration with remarks and an ode to the weather; the clouds, he said, seemed to part just in time to shine on two new Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle selections.
“It’s wonderful to see so many people here,” Griffith said. “It’s a real honor to be a part of this ceremony.”
Atom Atkinson, director of literary arts, led the group in the ceremony’s traditional poem and hymn before the big reveal. Sitting beside Atkinson and Griffith as they talked was a large cardboard box.
“We will now present books to begin the reading year, which I’ve been told are inside this box,” Atkinson said to cheers from the crowd.
“Drumroll,” called out an anxiously-awaiting audience member.
Anticipation rose as Atkinson and Griffith worked together to tear away the tape. But inside the box was — another box.
The audience laughed as Atkinson and Griffith opened more boxes, like Russian nesting dolls.
Finally, the first book was revealed.
“And the first book,” Atkinson said, “in Week One, we will welcome … Dan Egan, to present on The Death and Life of the Great Lakes.”
Egan’s work of nonfiction details the far-reaching effects the Great Lakes — which hold 20 percent of the world’s freshwater — have on millions of lives in the nation and the world. Atkinson said the book will speak to the week’s theme of “Moments that Changed the World.”
The second book, revealed by Griffith, is Aja Gabel’s debut novel, The Ensemble.
“It’s a novel that traces the relationship of members of a string quartet,” Griffith said, “and the life that they build together, the triumphs and the trials that they go through.”
The Ensemble, chosen for Week Four, explores the theme of “The Longevity Opportunity: How Longer Lives Are Changing the World.” In her visit to Chautauqua, Gabel will present her book and perform with a string quartet in the Hall of Philosophy.
“(Gabel’s book) is very much about what it takes to have the kind of longevity to become a professional musician,” Griffith said.
Griffith and Atkinson both held their picks, which coordinated with their outfits, up for photographs before Atkinson announced the vertical theme for 2019: “Collaborations.”
“And with each book,” they said, “we will be exploring ways that either the presentation itself or the way the book lives (in) the programming every week will be collaborative.”
To conclude the ceremony, Chautauquans lined up to the ring the bell — and the upcoming seasons of page-turning.
“Thank you very much,” Atkinson said, “and we look forward to an amazing reading year.”