One Book, One New Paltz has chosen one of America’s best-known short stories -- “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving -- for their fifth annual community-wide literary celebration.
The committee, made up of representatives from SUNY New Paltz, Elting Memorial Library, Sojourner Truth Library, New Paltz Central School District and other literary-minded folk, decided early on that they wanted a book, or in this case a short story, that was in theme with the statewide celebration of Henry Hudson’s exploration of the Hudson River and region 400 years ago.
To this end, they settled upon Irving’s classic, “Rip Van Winkle.” and are gearing up for a host of events, including small book discussions at various bakeries, coffee houses, restaurants, meeting spaces in the village, as well as panel discussions at SUNY New Paltz, film screenings, storytelling for kids and performances all based on the 1819 tale of a man who fell asleep for 20 years.
The story is set in the Catskill Mountain region and is lush with description of this region. The tale itself opens with a description of the “Kaatskill Mountains,” beautiful and mysterious hovering over the village where Rip Van Winkle lives. Described as a “simple, good-natured fellow,” with a faithful dog, a son, daughter and domineering wife, Van Winkle is adored by many throughout the village. However, his less-than-strict work ethic makes him unwelcomed at home.
Based on a plot from a German folktale, Van Winkle falls asleep and when he awakes, his beard has grown to the ground, his dog has died, battles have been won and lost and everything has changed by slight or great degrees.
According to Maryann Fallek, a One Book committee member, this selection “has particular cross-generational appeal” -- that’s always been a focal point of the community reading celebration.
“We’ve had books in the past that were age-appropriate and appealing to middle school children, but this is the first selection that appeals to both adults and to young children,” she said.
To that end, several teachers throughout the school district are incorporating Irving’s tale into their curriculum, there will be storytelling at Elting Memorial Library for children and local mom and grandmother Stacey Schenker is working to get elementary children involved as well.
Fallek noted that for the first time, the One Book, One New Paltz committee held their own book discussion.
“We wanted to show and demonstrate that this book raises all kinds of fascinating questions for adults as well,” she said. The book raises questions as to how Dame Van Winkle was portrayed, whether or not Van Winkle had “success” in his life and the more self-reflexive questions about how we all might be asleep in some ways.
“I think it raises a lot of questions about how deeply we participate in our life,” Fallek said. “Are we ‘awake’ and ‘present’ in our lives, in our community with what’s happening in our country and the world?”
There will be many opportunities for discussions, as well as an academic panel that has several professors from SUNY New Paltz from various disciplines contemplating the significance of the classic tale.
New Paltz Central High School will perform a play on Van Winkle and the Mohonk Mountain Stage Company will also be giving a dramatic reading at Unison Arts Center.
Woody Allen’s famous film, Sleeper will be aired at the Elting Memorial Library.
To learn more about specific events and times and to join the discussion online go to www.onebookonenewpaltz.org.