The Big Read Concludes with visit by Russian Literature Scholar Andrew Kaufman

Written by Harold Henkel, Big Read Coordinator

Dr. Robertson and Dr. Kaufman with essay and video contest winners
Dr. Robertson and Dr. Kaufman with essay and video contest winners

The Library’s Big Read concluded on February 10 with a lecture by visiting Tolstoy scholar and author Andrew Kaufman. Dr. Kaufman suggested that Tolstoy affects readers so powerfully because his works confront the essential questions of life: What does it mean to lead a good life? What is necessary for true happiness? Is suffering beneficial? How does one truly live by the teachings in the Gospels? Following the lecture, the winners of the Library’s Big Read essay and video contests were announced, and Dr. Robertson brought the festival to a close with some reflections on how reading the great books is essential for anyone who wishes to write well.

Flowers and Russian chocolate truffles at the finale reception
Flowers and Russian chocolate truffles at the finale reception

During our month-long celebration of Tolstoy and Russian culture, the University Library organized book discussions, a festival of Russian cinema, a faculty panel discussion, workshops and lectures, and even a traditional Russian meal prepared by Chef Murphy at the Ordinary. The Library formed partnerships with eleven organizations from Chicago to Bermuda to bring the power of Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich to diverse audiences. During January and early February, high school and college students, Sunday school classes, military officers, Russian immigrants, and inmates at the Virginia Beach jail all formed an “extended book club,” as they read together Tolstoy’s tale of life’s most inescapable fact. Our Big Read was bilingual, with two book discussions in Russian, using our own specially printed and bound Russian language edition of The Death of Ivan Ilyich. In addition to working with partner organizations, the Library mailed copies of the book and reader’s guide to Regent students as far away as South Africa.

Here are some final numbers from the Regent Library’ Big Read:

  • Copies of The Death of Ivan Ilyich & NEA Reader’s Guide distributed: 1,250
  • Number of partners: 11
  • Number of Book Discussions: 29
  • Adult attendance at book discussions: 181
  • Youth attendance at book discussions: 693
  • Number of Special Events: 7
  • Attendance at special events: 493

The Library has created a post-Big Read website, with the list of partner organizations, highlights of our festival, and links to photos and other resources. We would like to thank everyone who participated in this rewarding effort and helped make our Big Read a success.