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

November 2015 – Hamlet

Please join us on Wednesday November 18, 2015 when we discuss Hamlet by William Shakespeare.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m.  in room 1550.

From the Folger Shakespeare Library:

Events before the start of Hamlet set the stage for tragedy. When the king of Denmark, Prince Hamlet’s father, suddenly dies, Hamlet’s mother, Gertrude, marries his uncle Claudius, who becomes the new king.

A spirit who claims to be the ghost of Hamlet’s father describes his murder at the hands of Claudius and demands that Hamlet avenge the killing. When the councilor Polonius learns from his daughter, Ophelia, that Hamlet has visited her in an apparently distracted state, Polonius attributes the prince’s condition to lovesickness, and he sets a trap for Hamlet using Ophelia as bait.

To confirm Claudius’s guilt, Hamlet arranges for a play that mimics the murder; Claudius’s reaction is that of a guilty man.  Hamlet, now free to act, mistakenly kills Polonius, thinking he is Claudius. Claudius sends Hamlet away as part of a deadly plot.

After Polonius’s death, Ophelia goes mad and later drowns. Hamlet, who has returned safely to confront the king, agrees to a fencing match with Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, who secretly poisons his own rapier. At the match, Claudius prepares poisoned wine for Hamlet, which Gertrude unknowingly drinks; as she dies, she accuses Claudius, whom Hamlet kills.  Then first Laertes and then Hamlet die, both victims of Laertes’s rapier.

The Folger website provides the following visual character/relationship chart (on page two).  Please also see the Shakespeare Resource Center for everything Hamlet.

It has been suggested we view the 1996 film production of Hamlet starring Kenneth Branagh.  Specific scenes and the entire film may be found on YouTube.

Please join us on Wednesday October 28, 2015 when we discuss The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.   We will meet at 11:30 a.m.  in room 1550.

From  the description of our main character to our sharing of his fears, the text holds the clues as to why this story has endured:

He was tall, but exceedingly lank, with narrow shoulders, long arms and legs, hands that dangled a mile out of his sleeves, feet that might have served for shovels, and his whole frame most loosely hung together. His head was small, and flat at top, with huge ears, large green glassy eyes, and a long snipe nose, so that it looked like a weather-cock perched upon his spindle neck to tell which way the wind blew. To see him striding along the profile of a hill on a windy day, with his clothes bagging and fluttering about him, one might have mistaken him for the genius of famine descending upon the earth, or some scarecrow eloped from a cornfield.


As he approached the stream, his heart began to thump; he summoned up, however, all his resolution, gave his horse half a score of kicks in the ribs, and attempted to dash briskly across the bridge; but instead of starting forward, the perverse old animal made a lateral movement, and ran broadside against the fence. Ichabod, whose fears increased with the delay, jerked the reins on the other side, and kicked lustily with the contrary foot: it was all in vain; his steed started, it is true, but it was only to plunge to the opposite side of the road into a thicket of brambles and alder bushes. The schoolmaster now bestowed both whip and heel upon the starveling ribs of old Gunpowder, who dashed forward, snuffling and snorting, but came to a stand just by the bridge, with a suddenness that had nearly sent his rider sprawling over his head. Just at this moment a plashy tramp by the side of the bridge caught the sensitive ear of Ichabod. In the dark shadow of the grove, on the margin of the brook, he beheld something huge, misshapen and towering. It stirred not, but seemed gathered up in the gloom, like some gigantic monster ready to spring upon the traveller.

by Washington Irving


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