On Wednesday, August 24, 2016 we will meet to discuss Plainsong by Kent Haruf.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in a picnic setting in the courtyard.  If there is no room for us or the weather is inclement, we will meet in room 2549.

From GoodReads –

A heartstrong story of family and romance, tribulation and tenacity, set on the High Plains east of Denver.

In the small town of Holt, Colorado, a high school teacher is confronted with raising his two boys alone after their mother retreats first to the bedroom, then altogether. A teenage girl—her father long since disappeared, her mother unwilling to have her in the house—is pregnant, alone herself, with nowhere to go. And out in the country, two brothers, elderly bachelors, work the family homestead, the only world they’ve ever known.

From these unsettled lives emerges a vision of life, and of the town and landscape that bind them together—their fates somehow overcoming the powerful circumstances of place and station, their confusion, curiosity, dignity and humor intact and resonant. As the milieu widens to embrace fully four generations, Kent Haruf displays an emotional and aesthetic authority to rival the past masters of a classic American tradition.

Utterly true to the rhythms and patterns of life, Plainsong is a novel to care about, believe in, and learn from.

July 2016 – 1776

On Wednesday, July 27, 2016 we will meet to discuss 1776 by David McCullough.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 2137.

Some excerpts from two David McCullough interviews give a small insight to how he undertook such a large project and make it an enjoyable read.

I want people to see that all-important time in a different way – in the way it was. For a number of reasons, including the absence of photographs, we tend to see the men and women of the Revolution as not quite real. And we have far too little sense of what they suffered. Unlike the people you see in Mathew Brady’s photographs from the Civil War, the men and women of the Revolution seem more like characters in a costume pageant. And it’s a pageant in which the performers are all handsome as stage actors, with uniforms and dress that are always costume perfect. I want to be inside that other time. I want to convey the atmosphere of the time, what it was like to have been alive then, what the reality was for those people. I often think about how they would feel if they could read what I’m writing. I imagine them asking, ‘Does he get it?’
McCullough’s process has taken him through some of the most pivotal moments in America’s history. In his most recent book, 1776, McCullough was able to sift through material that was being held in more than twenty-five libraries, some in America and others in the United Kingdom.  He “drew on letters, diaries, memoirs, maps, orderly books, newspaper accounts – all the usual primary sources historians work with.”   McCullough also relies on academic historians for information as well. In the case of 1776, McCullough used three that were published in the late 1700’s, shortly after the events occurred.

Book Reporter, “Author Talk: David McCullough” BookReporter.com http://www.bookreporter.com/authors/au-mccullough-david.asp

I try to do the research, up to maybe the point where I think 60-some percent of it is done,
and then I begin writing. And it’s in the writing that you begin to find out what you need to know, and what you don’t know, and it’s perhaps circumstantial, but I don’t think so. I try to write four good pages a day. That’s double space, typewritten pages. I still work on a typewriter, a manual typewriter because I love the feeling of making something with my hands.

Academy of Achievement, “David McCullough” Academy of Achievement http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/mcc2int-1

Please see the post on our blog from May, 11, 2010


Walter Benjamin — ‘History is written by the victors.’


On Wednesday, June 22, 2016 we will meet to discuss Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 2137.

From barnesandnoble.com:

Since it was first performed in 1949, Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about the tragic shortcomings of an American dreamer has been recognized as a milestone of the theater.  Willy Loman, the protagonist of Death of a Salesman, has spent his life following the American way, living out his belief in salesmanship as a way to reinvent himself.  But somehow the riches and respect he covets have eluded him.  At age 63, he searches for the moment his life took a wrong turn, the moment of betrayal that undermined his relationship with his wife and destroyed his relationship with Biff, the son in whom he invested his faith.  Willy lives in a fragile world of elaborate excuses and daydreams, conflating past and present in a desperate attempt to make sense of himself and of a world that once promised so much.

Please join us on Wednesday May 25, 2016 when we discuss The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck.   We will meet at 11:30 a.m.  in room 2137.


Reception of the novel. With its publication in 1931, The Good Earth turned into a literary phenomenon.  The novel instantly became one of the most famous bestsellers in the history of American fiction, and it achieved wide popularity abroad.  It was translated into thirty different languages; there were at least seven different Chinese translations alone.  In addition to its public popularity, the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Buck as well as the Howells Medal for Distinguished Fiction and became a major factor in her being the first woman awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (1938).

The reviews in China varied.  Filled with admiration, some Chinese congratulated the American author for writing such a realistic story.  Others, from the intellectual Chinese community, hated the book “because they didn’t want foreigners to learn anything unpleasant about China … because some of them were dependent on foreigners … under their protection or pay (Stirling p. 109).  Similarly, the Chinese in the United States, feeling that the novel dishonored their homeland, showed strong disapproval of it at first.  This did not, however, deter the author.  Deciding that she had done nothing more heinous than tell the truth as she saw it, Buck went on to write two more volumes – Sons (1932) and A House Divided (1935) – about the history of Wang Lung’s children.  Together with The Good Earth they would comprise the trilogy House of Earth.

Source: Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them.  Joyce Moss and George Wilson. Vol. 3: Growth of Empires to the Great Depression (1890-1930s).

On Wednesday, April 27, 2016 we will meet to discuss this year’s choice for the Great Books Intercollegiate Student Symposium*, The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 1550.

From Amazon.com:

“Hailed as one of the world’s supreme masterpieces on the subject of death and dying, The Death of Ivan Ilych is the story of a worldly careerist, a high court judge who has never given the inevitability of his death so much as a passing thought. But one day death announces itself to him, and to his shocked surprise he is brought face to face with his own mortality. How, Tolstoy asks, does an unreflective man confront his one and only moment of truth?
This short novel was the artistic culmination of a profound spiritual crisis in Tolstoy’s life, a nine-year period following the publication of Anna Karenina during which he wrote not a word of fiction. A thoroughly absorbing and, at times, terrifying glimpse into the abyss of death, it is also a strong testament to the possibility of finding spiritual salvation. “

*The Great Books Symposium will be held at Wright College this year on Tuesday, May 3rd  12:30-1:50 in the Events Theatre.  Best of luck to to all the students involved.

Character List

  • Ivan Ilych Golovin  –  The protagonist of the novel. Ivan is a nondescript, unexceptional man
  • Peter Ivanovich –  Ivan’s closest friend and fellow judge.
  • Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina  –  Ivan’s wife and the mother of his children.
  • Schwartz –  Ivan’s colleague and friend.
  • Gerasim –  Ivan’s sick nurse and the butler’s assistant.
  • Vladimir Ivanich  –  Ivan’s son.
  • Lisa –  Ivan’s daughter.
  • Fedor Petrovich  –  Lisa’s fiancé.

On Wednesday, March 30, 2016 we will meet to discuss The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 1550.  For our discussion, Kathy requests that we read the 2003 Penquin Classics edition.  She is able to get extra copies from the Chicago Public Library and says she will get a copy for those who find it hard to come by, so please let her know if you are not able to get one.

From Half Price Books:
“A haunting study of guilt and lost love, Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge, Penguin Classics edition, is edited with an introduction and notes by Keith Wilson.  In a fit of drunken anger, Michael Henchard sells his wife and baby daughter for five guineas at a country fair.  Over the course of the following years, he manages to establish himself as a respected and prosperous pillar of the community of Casterbridge, but behind his success there always lurks the shameful secret of his past and a personality prone to self-destructive pride and temper.  Subtitled ‘A Story of a Man of Character’, Hardy’s powerful and sympathetic study of the heroic but deeply flawed Henchard is also an intensely dramatic work, tragically played out against the vivid backdrop of a close-knit Dorsetshire town.  This edition includes an introduction, chronology of Hardy’s life and works, the illustrations for the original serial issue, place names, maps, glossary, full explanatory notes as well as Hardy’s prefaces to the 1895 and 1912 editions. “

On Wednesday, February 24, 2016 we will meet to discuss The Tunnel by Ernesto Sábato.   We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 1550.

From Penguin Classics –

An unforgettable psychological novel of obsessive love, The Tunnel, was championed by Albert Camus, Thomas Mann, and Graham Greene upon its publication in 1948 and went on to become an international bestseller.  At its center is an artist named Juan Pablo Castel, who recounts from his prison cell his murder of a woman named María Iribarne.  Obsesses from the moment he sees her examining one of his paintings, Castel fantasizes for months about how they might meet again.  When he happens upon her one day, a relationship develops that convinces him of their mutual love.  But Castel’s growing paranoia leads him to destroy the one thing he truly cares about.


In 1988, the book was made into a film starring Jane Seymour and Peter Weller.  It is available on YouTube.


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