January 2017 – The Iliad

Please join us on Wednesday, January 25, 2017 to discuss The Iliad by Homer*.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 1603.

From Barnes & Noble ~~

Robert Fagles, winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation and a 1996 Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters presents us with his universally acclaimed modern verse translation of the world’s greatest war story. Rage-Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles, murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses, hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls? Thus begins the stirring story of the Trojan War and the rage of Achilles that has gripped listeners and readers for 2,700 years. This timeless poem still vividly conveys the horror and heroism of men and gods wrestling with towering emotions and battling amidst devastation and destruction, as it moves inexorably to its wrenching, tragic conclusion. Renowned classicist Bernard Knox observes in his superb Introduction that although the violence of the Iliad is grim and relentless, it co-exists with both images of civilized life and a poignant yearning for peace. Combining the skills of a poet and scholar, Robert Fagles brings the energy of contemporary language to this enduring heroic epic. He maintains the drive and metric music of Homer’s poetry, and evokes the impact and nuance of the Iliad’s mesmerizing repeated phrases in what Peter Levi calls “an astonishing performance.

*We will use the Robert Fagles translation.

Please join us on December 14th as we celebrate our past year of Great reads, look forward to next year’s challenges, and discuss: In the Dark Streets Shineth by David McCullough.  We will meet in room 2527 at 11:30am.

From the inside cover panel:

Christmas Eve, 1941. Mere days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt met at the White House. As war raged throughout the world, the two leaders delivered a powerful message of hope that still resonates today.

If your copy of the book did not come with a DVD, you may see it on YouTube.

Other discussion topics include: books we’ve read this year and would recommend to others,  books on our wish lists, and books on our To Be Read piles.   Do you have a reading selection you enjoy at this time of year?

If you can’t attend the meeting but would like to share your thoughts, please leave a comment.

We will meet on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 to discuss Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 2527.

From the Shakespeare Resource Center at www.bardweb.net (note: spoiler alert!)

“Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon, pays a visit to Leonata, the governor of Messina, while returning from a victorious campaign against his rebellious brother, Don John. Accompanying him are two of his officers, Benedick and Claudio. While in Messina, Claudio falls for Leonato’s daughter, Hero; Benedick verbally spars with Beatrice, the governor’s niece. The budding love between Claudio and Hero prompts Don Pedro to arrange with Leonato for the marriage.

Meanwhile, the trickery begins as Don Pedro (with the help of Leonato and Claudio) attempts to sport with Benedick and Beatrice in an effort to make the two of them fall in love. Likewise, Hero and her waiting woman help to set up Beatrice. Both Benedick and Beatrice will think that the other has professed a great love for them.

The marriage of Claudio to Hero is set to go. Don John—ostensibly reconciled with his brother—despises Claudio, however, and plots against him. First, he tells Claudio that Pedro wants Hero for himself; next, he enlists the aid of his henchman Borachio and one of Hero’s gentlewomen disguised as Hero to stage an encounter that will bring Hero’s virtue into question. Claudio falls for the ruse and denounces Hero at the altar. Friar Francis helps her, hiding her away and enlisting the aid of Leonata, who announces that his daughter has died of grief from the proceeding.

Fortunately for Hero, Borachio is arrested while drunkenly boasting of his part in the plan (and the 1,000 ducats paid him). With Borachio’s confession, Hero is to be exonerated. Leonato demands a public apology from Claudio, then tells him that he will allow Claudio to marry one of his nieces in Hero’s place—a niece that turns out to be none other than Hero herself. Claudio and Hero are reunited, Benedick and Beatrice will wed alongside them, and they receive the news that the bastard Don John has been apprehended.”

Dramatis Personae:

  • Don Pedro, Prince of Arragon
  • Don John, his bastard brother
  • Claudio, young lord of Florence
  • Benedick, young lord of Padua
  • Leonato, Governer of Messina
  • Antonio, brother of Leonato
  • Balthasar, servant to Don Pedro
  • Borachio, follower of Don John
  • Conrade, follower of Don John
  • Dogberry, a constable
  • Verges, a headborough
  • Friar Francis
  • A Sexton
  • A Boy
  • Hero, daughter of Leonato
  • Beatrice, niece of Leonato
  • Margaret, gentlewoman to Hero
  • Ursula, gentlewoman to Hero
  • Messengers, Watch, and Attendants

We will be reading from the Folger Shakespeare Library edition.   For those interested in watching a Much Ado About Nothing movie, Lyn suggests the 1993 Kenneth Branagh version (Much Ado About Nothing on IMDB).

October 2016 – I, Robot

On Wednesday, October 26, 2016 we will meet to discuss  I, Robot by Isaac Asimov. We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 2527.

I, Robot is a collection of short stories, all written between 1940 and 1950.  These stories were previously published in either Super Science Stories or Astounding Science Fiction. In 1950, Gnome Press compiled them into a single book, woven together with an interview with Dr. Susan Calvin, who tells these stories as individual historical events.

Asimov created the “three laws of robotics”:
1)    A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2)    A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3)    A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

He was an author and a professor of biochemistry at Boston University.  He was considered one of the “Big Three” of science fiction writers (Robert A. Heinlein and Arthur C. Clark were the other two).  In addition to science fiction, Asimov also wrote mysteries and fantasy as well as non-fiction subjects, including astronomy, math, history, chemistry and Shakespeare.

He was a long-time member and vice-president of Mensa International. He has won more than a dozen awards for particular works, half a dozen lifetime achievement awards and 14 honorary doctorate degrees.

An asteroid, a crater on Mars, a Brooklyn elementary school and a literary award are all named in his honor.

Happy Birthday Book Club!  8 years old.

On Wednesday, September 21, 2016 we will meet to discuss The Stranger by Albert Camus.  We will meet at 11:30 a.m. in room 2140.

From the Elk Grove Library:

“A young Algerian, Meursault, afflicted with a sort of aimless inertia, becomes embroiled in the petty intrigues of a local pimp and, somewhat inexplicably, ends up killing a man. Once he’s imprisoned and eventually brought to trial, his crime, it becomes apparent, is not so much the arguably defensible murder he has committed as it is his deficient character. In the story of an ordinary man who unwittingly gets drawn into a senseless murder on a sun-drenched Algerian beach, Camus was exploring what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.”


Conformity, Poverty, Honesty, Death — Psychological aspects, Murder, Murderers,
Trials (Murder) , Executions and executioners, and Existentialism

Existentialism  is “a philosophical theory or approach that emphasizes the existence of the individual person as a free and responsible agent determining their own development through acts of the will.”


From Wiki – The notion of the Absurd “…contains the idea that there is no meaning in the world beyond what meaning we give it. This meaninglessness also encompasses the amorality or “unfairness” of the world. This contrasts with the notion that “bad things don’t happen to good people”; to the world, metaphorically speaking, there is no such thing as a good person or a bad person; what happens happens, and it may just as well happen to a “good” person as to a “bad” person.

Because of the world’s absurdity, at any point in time, anything can happen to anyone, and a tragic event could plummet someone into direct confrontation with the Absurd. The notion of the Absurd has been prominent in literature throughout history. Many of the literary works of Søren Kierkegaard, Samuel Beckett, Franz Kafka, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Eugène Ionesco, Miguel de Unamuno, Luigi Pirandello, Jean-Paul Sartre, Joseph Heller and Albert Camus contain descriptions of people who encounter the absurdity of the world.”

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.’