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.

On Wednesday, January 27, 2016 we will meet to discuss Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee.   We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 1550.

From Harper Collins Publishers ~~

“A historic literary event: the publication of a newly discovered novel, the earliest known work from Harper Lee, the beloved, bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.”

From the back dust jacket ~~

“Every man’s island, Jean Louis, every man’s watchman, is his conscience.”

Please join us on Wednesday December 16, 2015 when we discuss The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m.  in room 1550.

From Wiki –

In July 1845, Dickens contemplated forming a periodical focusing on the concerns of the home. It was to be called The Cricket, but the plan fell through, and he transformed his idea into a Christmas book in which he abandoned social criticism, current events, and topical themes in favour of simple fantasy and a domestic setting for his hero’s redemption. The book was released on 20 December 1845 (the title page read “1846”) and sold briskly into the New Year. Seventeen stage productions opened during the Christmas season 1845 with one production receiving Dickens’s approval and opening on the same day as the book’s release. Dickens read the tale four times in public performance. It has been dramatised in numerous languages and for years was more popular on stage than A Christmas Carol. Cricket is less explicitly Christian than some of Dickens’s other Christmas books, it has been criticised for its sentimentality, but contemporary readers were attracted to its depiction of the Victorian ideal of the happy home.

From Carol:
The Faith of Scientists in Their Own Words  Ed. by Nancy H. Frankenberry
The Real All Americans by Sally Senkins

From Kathy:
My favorite audiobooks:
Middlemarch by George Eliot, read by Juliet Stevenson
Truman by David McCullough, read by David McCullough

And my favorite physical books were:
The Great Western Beach: a memoir of a Cornish childhood between the wars by Emma Smith–a lovely memoir
How To Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster–very entertaining
Ross Poldark: a novel of Cornwall by Winston Graham–to accompany the PBS series–a page-turner
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? a graphic memoir by Roz Chast–Chast tells the story of her elderly parents last years in a graphic (cartoon) format.  Very moving.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier–even more suspenseful than when I read it as a teenager
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury–thought-provoking

and I am almost finished with Cecilia by Fanny Burney–Burney was a favorite author of Jane Austen, and you can immediately see the influence on Austen’s work.

…and I continued my commitment to read Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series.  This year I read books 3 & 4:
The Eustace Diamonds
Phineas Redux

…and my 2016 plans are to finish Trollope’s Palliser series with books 5 & 6:
The Prime Minister
The Duke’s Children

in addition to finishing:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville–which (so far) is much more entertaining than I ever imagined.

From Rose:
Passing / Nella Larsen
Night to remember / Walter Lord
The Christmas books
Christmas day in the morning / by Pearl S. Buck
How the Grinch stole Christmas / by Dr. Seuss
Letters from Father Christmas / J.R.R. Tolkien
The Sketch book. Washington Irving
Man who invented Christmas : how Charles Dickens’s a Christmas Carol rescued his career and revived our holiday spirits / Les Standiford

Mary Anne:
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain

A Sort of Life by Graham Greene


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