Winter Study: Reading for Life

“Books possess a magical, elusive quality that we often overlook when we read as scholars,” says Rudi Yniguez ’16. “In a typical class, our time is spent screening sentences for symbolism or analyzing syntax, instead of allowing the natural rhythm of the book to pull or push us along as it’s intended to do.”

After a snowy sleigh ride to a cabin in the woods, Cassandra Cleghorn and her students read War and Peace during Winter Study.
After a snowy sleigh ride to a cabin in the woods, Cassandra Cleghorn and her students read War and Peace during Winter Study.

So when the opportunity presented itself to read Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace—all 1,296 pages of it—during Winter Study in January, Yniguez jumped at the chance.

She and 14 other students are taking part in the class “War and Peace,” led by Cassandra Cleghorn, senior lecturer in English and American studies. The class meets for three hours each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with optional, all-day “drop in and read” sessions on Mondays.

Winter Study is “the perfect occasion to lose and then find oneself in the enormous world of a book many people consider the greatest novel of all time,” says Cleghorn, who, herself, had never read War and Peace. “I’m reading the novel not as an expert but as a liberal arts student, as a lover of literature.

“This class,” she adds, “is about learning how to read for life.”

Cleghorn had her students sign a contract agreeing to complete the novel by the end of Winter Study, all the while marking off their progress on posters hanging on their classroom wall. And they’re reading in all sorts of ways—individually and as a group, with guest lecturers providing context on Russian pronunciation and military strategy, and in different settings.

One recent afternoon, the class took a sleigh ride to a forest cabin, where they lit a fire and read aloud from the novel. “To feel the sensation of being pulled on a 19th century wooden sleigh through snowy fields and forests, and then to read aloud Tolstoy’s account of a horse-drawn sleigh ride, helps us become more active and imaginative readers,” Cleghorn says.

For theater and comparative literature major Sarah Sanders ’14, the class “has reminded me how much I love books. It had been a long time since I’d stayed still for more than two hours at a time, reading a novel.”

Says Yniguez, the only first-year student in a class of juniors and seniors who are majoring in Arabic studies, art history, math, political economy, and psychology (to name a few), “I had no choice but to allow each page to wash over me. War and Peace has reminded me of the immense power of literature to not only introduce me to a world that I would not otherwise have been able to experience, but also to provide an escape from the one in which I reside.”

Click here to see a full list of courses being offered during Winter Study.