Lively Discussion of Chaucer’s THE CANTERBURY TALES Kicks Off “Rekindle The Classics” Book Group

When I saw Poudre River Public Library District‘s email about a new “Rekindle The Classics” book group series, I added the dates to my calendar.

Not just because I had missed out on reading many classics as an English major in college, and felt guilty about it.

Not just because I finally read Moby Dick years ago and loved it. (Why doesn’t anyone ever mention how funny it is in the beginning?)

But because I saw a chance to redeem myself.

The first meeting, on Nov. 11 at Wolverine Farm Letterpress and Publick House, was to focus on The Selected Canterbury Tales: A New Verse Translation by Sheila Fisher, which presents Chaucer’s Middle English and the modern translation on facing pages.

Over the years, every time I’ve come across a mention of Chaucer, I’ve felt a twinge of regret and guilt. During junior year of college, my best friend registered for a class on The Canterbury Tales and convinced me to sign up. I attended the first meeting. One of the assignments would be to record ourselves reading Middle English. Awesome, right?

But the boy I had a crush on told me he was taking an 18th century literature course. It was at the same time as the other class. I dropped Chaucer, to my friend’s extreme disappointment.

I sat next to my crush every time, but spent the entire quarter trying not to fall asleep. The professor was the dullest lecturer I’d heard in three years. During one class, I woke with a start to find my notes ending in a squiggly line diving down the page.

In contrast, the Nov. 11 book group meeting was lively. The eleven people consisted of a few retirees, several college students, me, and three facilitators: Dr. Lynn Shutters and graduate student Lindsay Brookshier of Colorado State University, and Currie Meyer of Council Tree Library.

The discussions focused on “The Prioress’ Tale,” “The Clerk’s Tale,” “The Wife of Bath,” and “The Miller’s Tale.” One of the first questions, “What surprised you about medieval literature?” elicited the reply, “All the sex,” which made everyone laugh.

The storytelling competition among the pilgrims requires them to tell a tale that not only entertains, but teaches a moral lesson. Discussion highlights included the feminist overtones of “The Wife of Bath” and its promotion of women’s autonomy (but how much choice does she really have?) and its contrast with obedient Griselda in “The Clerk’s Tale”; seeing Griselda as a knight figure, and comparing her commitment to a knight’s vow; and the fact that “The Miller’s Tale” is considered the most beautifully constructed of all the tales.

The book group meeting began at 6:30 p.m. and was slated to last two hours, but when the discussion finally wound down, it was 8:52 p.m.

Yes, ladies and gentleman, medieval literature can be this interesting!

The next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 8, will focus on Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards. I bought a copy – with a 20 percent book group discount – at Old Firehouse Books, and I look forward to another passionate discussion.

Maybe I’ll even search for my old friend on Facebook, apologize again, and tell her what I learned.

Katherine Valdez loves to discuss books and write no-spoilers movie reviews at Secrets of Best-Selling Authors: Follow her at Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Goodreads, and Medium.

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