Reading Retreats in Rural Italy began in December of 1996. The original idea was to welcome small groups of people to a quiet place in the country, where everyone would read the same books by specific authors or on specific themes, and then, in the evening, discuss what they had read. After less than a year it became obvious that the “forced reading” of Jane Austen or Albert Camus and the slightly academic approach was not appropriate for a holiday. It was clear that the best way to satisfy everyone’s reading appetite was to let guests read whatever and whenever they wanted, and so, by the end of the first year, the traditional “book club” idea of reading the same book and then discussing it during and after dinner was dropped.
The library is growing steadily, and now occupies every room of Corte Eremo. Over 6,000 volumes are divided according to language or genre; poetry and cookbooks in the kitchen, Italian literature and sheet music in the “black” library (the bookshelves and upright piano are black), English literature and periodicals in the “white” library (the bookshelves and baby grand piano are white), gardening, science, history, philosophy, and guidebooks in “the garden room”, comics and light reading in the bathroom, art books in an upstairs bedroom, German, Latin, Greek, and antique books in the other two upstairs bedrooms, French books in the world’s smallest office in the stairwell. “The Kid’s Loft” is where anyone willing to crawl up a wooden ladder will find a few hundred children’s classics: Whinnie the Poo, Peter Rabbit, Curious George, and many more.
Guests often donate the books they bring to the association’s library. Some people come alone, some as couples, and others in small groups. There are often local Italian members at Corte Eremo who come from Mantua, Verona, Bologna, Ferrara, or Modena – for dinner or to attend concerts, art exhibits, or other events. The unique mix of foreign and local friends is a pleasure for both because there are always familiar faces around, but new people to meet, as well. Many visitors enjoy trying out their Italian while the Italians take the opportunity to practice their English.
Reading Retreats are not only for bookworms! Not everyone who stays here delves into the books on the shelves; some people never even crack one open. Others want to read, but not a big, black-covered classic. No problem! We’ve got a wild mix here – books with pink covers about sex and shopping are in one room, but right next door you’ll find history books about Hitler, the bombing of Dresden, perverted popes, Japanese gardens, whatever you want! Susan Sontag’s exquisite essays are right next to Sherry Sontag’s “Blind Man’s Bluff; the Untold Story of American Submarine Espionage.” Grace Paley’s “Collected Short Stories” rubs covers with Orhan Pamuk’s “Snow.” Hundreds of antique books still need to be catalogued. There is also a large cabinet full of DVDs if you prefer chilling out and overdosing on films and hot buttery popcorn in our Corte Eremo Cinema!