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Sunday, June 2, 2013

For Leaders and Readers

For some time now we have been considering creating a means to communicate with discussion leaders in Northern California to support them with ideas about forming and maintaining Great Books groups and provide a forum for leaders and readers to communicate with us and others.  This is in addition to the excellent Leader/Reader Workshop held by Kay White and her crew in March every year.  For several years we have been starting GB discussion groups in San Francisco and they are all doing well.  We now have seven groups where there was one previously, but that is a subject for another article.  We hope what we do here will be of use to discussion leaders and the readers who participate in discussion groups.
Shetland Library/Church

Leaders ask questions to hold discussions.  Readers ask questions of what they read as part of the skeptical attitude they should employ while attempting to understand.  Here is a simple exercise, almost no reading required.  The building in the photo is a library in Shetland in the north of the British Isles.  It used to be a church.  Come up with some questions regarding a church being changed into a library.  I’ll start:  Has the mind of Man replaced the mind of God?  If so, why?  How?  Do Man and God cohabit the building?  How?  OK, so my questions are lame.  Come up with your own.  Write a short story or scenario in your mind and question it.  Use your imagimation.  Einstein reminded us that imagination is more important than knowledge.

Write something down considering the simple idea of a church becoming a library.  In a recent article in The Great Books Foundation Blog by Sharon Crowley titled Does Writing Improve Reading? she relates that William Faulkner was once asked how to improve one’s writing, to which he replied “Read, read, read! Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad; . . .”  According to a Carnegie Corporation report, it is also beneficial when learning to read well to write, write, write.  But, that is what the GBF has been doing with the Junior Great Books for decades.  The article is well worth a read.  Click on the underlined title above.

Write something about tne simple idea of a church becoming a library and come up with interpretive or evaluative questions.  Write something using poetry, philosophy, psychology, history, religion, literature, community development, recycling, or sustainability.  Sustainability?  What does that have to do with Great Books?  We will examine that question in the next issue of our GBSF E-Newsletter and this Blog with Sustainable Development: What would Aristotle do?

Whatever you come up with, send it to me and we'll report it.  Just reply to the E-Newsletter or email me at or post it in the Post a Comment section below.

The photo above is from who works, travels, takes photos.  He works on a crew that moves drilling rigs and living quarters around the North  Sea taking photos when he can.  To view an interactive, larger photo in black and white or color, CLICK HERE.  If you click on the photo there it will enlarge for closer inspection.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Weekend of Great Books at Asilomar

(This article is from the Harrison Middleton University Blog.)
Friday, May 31, 2013 at 8:18AM | Alissa Simon (Tutor)

Thank you to Dominique Wagner, HMU Tutor, for today's post.

I recently attended the Great Books weekend at Asilomar near Monterey, CA. As it was my first foray into one of these retreats, I thought I might share with you some of the things I found most surprising.

The Participants

I would have expected a lot of educators, mixed in with maybe a few retirees. But this group --some of whom have been in attendance every April for more than 50 years -- was very dynamic in their diversity. Doctors, judges, artists, life-long housewives, business executives, one woman I was convinced I had seen singing & dancing in an old film. There were only two common denominators 1) a love of reading and discussing great books (a given in these circles), and 2) age. My companion and I were by far the youngest in attendance and actually something of a novelty.

Spending the weekend surrounded by these members of the "greatest generation" was amazing. Their collective wealth of experience, the perspectives they brought to their interpretations of the works we studied, even their extensive familiarity with shared inquiry -- they have so much to teach for a group that is not comprised of educators! And they are fun too. You could have knocked me over with a feather when a retired businessman pushing 70 burst into song as he read aloud the part of The Fool in KING LEAR! The wrap-up party showcased wine & the participants musical talents, including a fantastic rendition of "Cabaret." It concluded with a late-night wine & cheese after party that did not end until well after midnight when some other guests of the inn complained about the noise. These people really know how to have a good time!

The Setting

Asilomar is a historic and beautiful facility located on the ocean in Pacific Grove a few miles from Monterrey. It has extensive grounds dotted with small living quarters and conference rooms ranging from intimate to grand. All the meals are included and served three times daily, family style in a large dining hall. It reminded me of my old summer camp, but in a good way. The land directly adjacent to Asilomar holds a very posh resort and golf course (a la The Ritz -- we are in Pebble Beach country after all). So imagine my surprise that the cost for our weekend away, lodging, meals, registration, books, the works, was only about $400 per person. I bet you can't get one night in the broom closet with a stale cracker for that price at the resort next door! Why this retreat and others like it aren't more popular, I don't know!

In conclusion, I will admit that not all of the Great Books retreats are held steps from one of the most beautiful beaches in California. Some might cost more, some may be even less. Not all may boast of such a diverse group of participants (although I bet there are characters a plenty in every setting!). But for sure, several of the regional groups do offer weekends that showcase their respective areas of the country (The Great Books Council of San Francisco, host of Asilomar, offers links to other regional groups on their website I strongly encourage you to get out there and explore these wonderful opportunities, to meet like-minded individuals who want to not only read and discuss the Great Books but share an experience while doing so. I am already looking forward to my next time --maybe I'll see you