A HISTORY OF THE GREAT BOOKS CLUB AT MONTEREY PENINSULA COLLEGE From Julie Brown Smith:
The Club started as an offshoot of David Clemen's Great Books Program in 2008 as a way to read the Canon of Western Literature as defined by Robert Hutchins in order to continue his "Great Conversation". It began as a way to discuss the great books, and others, in a fun, friendly setting, in order to foster the love of reading and tone down the intimidation some students feel when approaching these texts. Joshua Converse began the club, and he asked me to attend a meeting in the Spring of 2009. The meetings were held every other week, and were sparsely attended. For the Spring and Summer of 2009, Josh and I were usually the only two members in attendance, along with our advisor, David Joplin. In the summer, we met on our own in an effort to keep the momentum going. In the Fall of 2009, we took steps to become an official club. Josh became President, and I became Vice-President. We began to meet each week and little by little gathered a core group of 6-10 people. We had read Homer during the Spring and Summer, and decided to do a special event, "Homer on the Beach", reading The Odyssey on Carmel Beach on a freezing cold November night, looking out at the wine-dark sea from the warmth of a bonfire. This was an extremely special evening, as it started out with only Josh and myself in attendance, and drew various strangers who were walking on the beach, including three women from Germany. Everyone was fascinated to see us reading aloud by a fire, and we felt that we had reached a new goal. We had our first Used Book Sale in December 2009, raising $191 for the Children's Advocacy Center of Boston, who used our money to provide a book and a journal to every abused child who left their shelter. The May 2010 sale raised $181 which we donated to Sylvia Panetta's Monterey County Reads organization. As an official club, we now participate in our MPC Club Lobo Days, gathering new members and many comments, as we give away free books to people who tell us it makes them want to read even though they haven't read or wanted to before. In addition, we attend all of the Colloquium lectures put on by David Clemens as part of the Great Books Program, meeting the speakers and exchanging ideas with them. These have included former Poet Laureate of the US Robert Pinsky, Dana Gioia, formerly of the NEA, and Victor Davis Hanson. Last Spring we were also invited to attend the Great Books Council of San Francisco's Asilomar Weekend. They were so pleased to have us that they have invited us back to participate in their discussions again this year. Last fall, I became President when Josh transferred to UC Santa Cruz, and Aaron Birk became Vice President, and we attended a performance of Twelfth Night at Carmel's historic outdoor Forest Theater, attended the Fall Colloquium of Clare Cavanagh and Mark Bauerlein, and will see Mark Edmundson in the Spring as he had to reschedule. We have hosted Shimer College, whose representative spent two hours at our meeting and was thrilled to be a part of such a wonderful discussion, and we were pleased to have MPC professor Dr. Haffa introduce us to Greek poetry, explaining the rhyme scheme and reading to us in Greek. He will be joining us again in the Spring. As we continue to read through the Canon, in three semesters we have covered Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, Dante'sInferno, Shakespeare, and Milton's Paradise Lost. We have interspersed these weighty tomes with C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, Twain's Letters from the Earth, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Beowulf, Poetry, Voltaire's Candide, and Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. We have more exciting plans for the Spring semester, and are happy to have support from the college as well as the community, which donates many fine books for our sales. We also have a Google group for people to participate long distance, or who cannot attend the meetings on a regular basis, as well as a Facebook page.