Vol. 3 No. 2
publication of the SAN FRANCISCO GREAT BOOKS COUNCIL
Letter from the President
Dear Friends and Fellow Readers,
Theres a change in our nameplate. From now on, the line "Serving Northern California" will appear at the top of Reading Matters and other correspondence. Though San Francisco is our symbolic headquarters, our membership extends from the coast south and north to the valleys and into the mountains. This simple line of type provides long overdue recognition of the fact.
We hear from Gary Schoepfel, director of the Adult Great Books program for the Great Books Foundation, that he will be leaving at the end of June to teach in a Great Books electronic high school. Gary played a major role in reestablishing support by the Foundation for the adult program after decades of neglect. Gary expects the momentum to continue under his successor (yet to be recruited), and wants to stay in touch as a consultant.
Gary has been wonderful for the program. It is necessary not only to find a talented and committed replacement for Gary, but to implement and sustain a major drive to attract a new generation to Great Books. Three and a half million American adults participate in book discussions, but only about 16,000 in Great Books. Most of the former and few of the latter are under 45 years of age. This is a challenge the Foundation needs to recognize and mobilize the resources to meet. Fifty years ago Robert Maynard Hutchens and Mortimer Adler took this program across the country and made it familiar to millions. It is time to enlist some equally prominent and admired public intellectuals and mount a comparable campaign.
Great Books councils are ready to provide extensive assistance to the rebirth of the adult Great Books program. But only the national Board of Directors can take the big steps needed.
-- Rick White
Shakespeare and Paintings to Headline Poetry Weekend
Places Still Open for June 5-6 Event
Oscar winner William Shakespeare will be featured at this years Poetry Weekend at Westminster Retreat in Alamo. Sonnets by the Bard and poetry from his plays will be discussed.
Paintings (and one sculpture) that have inspired poems are the focus of another session. Poems and art are provided. At an "Arty Party" in the evening, participants will be invited to create poems or drawings.
A potpourri of contemporary poems will complete the weekend. There will be time for swimming, walks in the hills and a party on the verandah as well.
To sign up, call registrar Carol Fistler at (510) 522-5376).
Picnic is Moved to September 19 in Expansionist Plot
Part I: "Y2K minus 1"
Postponing the opportunity of Northern California Great Books participants to pass judgment on the work of their governing body, at its April meeting the Executive Committee reset the Annual Meeting/Picnic this year from a date in May to September 19. Several calendar changes in the year 2000 provide camouflage for this usurpation of the democratic process. These are explained below. In an apparent effort to obfuscate, throughout the meeting President Rick White referred to the current year as "Y2K minus 1."
The picnic, as usual, will be held at the Cheese Factory, outside Petaluma. Picnic and barbecue begin at noon followed by the Annual Meeting of the Council then discussion of The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy. Bring food to share and barbecue. (Cheese Factory sells food, too.)
Ms. Roys book won the Booker Prize. She is said to be "a writer who dares to break the rules," and the story is billed as "brilliantly plotted uncoils with a sense of foreboding."
Directions: Highway 101 to DeLong Avenue exit (Novato). DeLong west to Novato Blvd. (one mile). Right on Novato. Continue 9 miles to junction with Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. Turn left, drive half a mile to Cheese Factory. Enter past sales building to rear picnic area.
Call Nancy Wortman at (415)566-1392 for information. There is no charge for this event.
Part II: Novel Moved, Dates Changed
"We want to expand the novel weekend," says Council president White. "We turn people away because Ralston White Retreat only holds 46." This long-standing concern provided the starting rationale for much schedule juggling. This years novel weekend will be sold out by the time you read this. To solve the problem of space in the future, the novel will move to a more commodious facility in Berkeley. It is noted that this will also make it more convenient for White, who lives there.
Part III: The Old Switcheroo
But the new place, the Clark Kerr Campus of UC, is only available for overnight events in the summer. So the novel and the poetry weekends will trade seasons. Next years novel weekend will be June 24 and 25. "Berkeley has great weather in the summer," White claims. Poetry will be in the fall.
Part IV: The "Explanation"
The Executive Committee says that to read all of the Asilomar material for April 2000, the picnic novel or play for May, and a long novel for June will be too much for participants and leaders alike. Thus the Committee voted to move the picnic to September in the year 2000. Once this was decided, the temptation was too great to resist to move it to September in 1999 as well, extending their coveted terms of office three months.
The Poetry Committee, offered the choice of staying at Westminster Retreat on the new dates or taking the space at Ralston White vacated by the long novel, chose Westminster. "So this is our last year at Mt. Tam," says President Rickthat is, until we start another event!
The Graying of Great Books: Most of Us are over 45
Seniors are the best target for expanding Great Books, according to a marketing study just completed by the Great Books Foundation, Chicago. Gary Schoepfel, Adult Program Director, visited the April meeting of the San Francisco Great Books Councils governing body, its Executive Committee, and reported that the study recommends reaching seniors through Institutions for Learning in Retirement, a branch of the Elder Hostels movement.
Sac State Success Shows Feasibility
Chuck Scarcliff already leads a Great Books group at Sacramento State University through this program. According to Chuck, the college provides a place to meet and office space but not faculty. Teachers are drawn from the 600 members of the Learning in Retirement program at Sac State.
"I placed a limit of 20 on the group," says Chuck, "and I have a waiting list." Because his group meets weekly, Chuck is using the three-volume Introduction to Great Books series which has shorter selections than the five-volume set. "Id go to every other week with the longer series," says Chuck.
Great Books has become a Senior Program
"I have concluded painfully that there is no longer an adult Great Books program in America. As the participants have grown older, it has become a senior program," says SFGB president Rick White. In a telephone survey of 36 local groups, Rick found only 55 participants, six percent, to be under 45 years of age. Most of these are in three of the groups. "Eighteen are in one group, a new one begun by my son last fall, which confines itself to adults under the age of 45."
Rick concludes that young adults prefer activities where there are a significant number of others their age. A "critical mass" of younger adults is necessary to retain them in a mixed-age group
Young Adults should be Assisted
One solution is to help young adults organize their own groups. Rick led a demonstration discussion for his son and friends to help them get going, then bowed out.
North Fork/Bass Lake Group
Readings and Field Trips
In the foothills outside Fresno at the edge of pine forests are the towns of North Fork (on Willow Creek) and Bass Lake. There Beverly Rosenow started and leads a group that has been meeting six years.
After reading Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat, the group took an overnight trip to visit the John Steinbeck museum in Salinas and see the locale of the story at Cannery Row in Monterey. Next, they read Shakespeares A Winters Tale and attended its performance at Fresno State University. Each year since, the group has read the play and attended one or two Shakespeare productions at the college.
The group traveled to Hanford for a joint meeting with the group led by James Leonard, then were shown the town. The Hanford group reciprocated by visiting North Fork.
Beverly also has started a group at Borders Books in Fresno which she hopes will develop into a Great Books group. Some in the Borders group have experienced the shared inquiry method by visiting Beverlys Great Books group and attending plays with them.
Mini-Retreat Serves Up Feast of Salmon, Brecht & Conrad
Great Bookies gathered at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences May 7 to discuss Bertolt Brechts Life of Galileo and three Joseph Conrad sea stories, The Secret Sharer, Typhoon, and Youth. Their host for the day, Dave White, gave a slide presentation on the winter run Chinook salmon captive breeding program, his responsibility at the Academy. Wallis Leslie reports on the book discussions.
What New Age Dawns forUs?
By Wallis Leslie
Galileo chortles over the prospect of the dawning of a new age in Brechts Life of Galileo. There the great man wasstraddling two ages: the age of thousands of years of reliance on established truths and the age of the renaissance of curiosity, exploration, and scientific discovery. Brecht shows us a man confident in the power of human reason to confront and examine reality, however grim, and to devise solutions to reduce human misery.
Joseph Conrad shows us men willing to brave the power of the sea to seek adventure, fortune, and the limits of their own capacities. (Though I write the word "man" here, fortunately I can imagine my woman self sharing these male characteristics of courage, self-awareness, and perseverance. Even better, women in 1999 can be scientists and seafarers.)
Some Mind-Expanding Questions
Flannery OConnor reminds us that great literature has the power to hang on and expand in our minds. The following questions do just that:
The readings together with the talk by Dave White offered us a chance to reflect on the gains as well as other challenges that the "age of reason," "the age of exploration," and "the information age" have brought us. Are we present at the birth of a new agean age of global communication, ecological awareness, and recognition of humanity as one tribe?Asilomar Special Report: The Books, The Awards, The Parties!
Theme Revealed (as Usual) by Pattern-Seeking Prexy
Editors Note: The book and poetry selection committees deny there is a theme.Responsibility was the theme of the Asilomar selections, revealed Council president Rick White in a Saturday-night party speech. We began this retreat, he stated, with "The Bright Light of Responsibility" in the poetry selections. Saturday morning we moved to Lincolns growing sense of responsibility to end slavery. In Song of Solomon we saw growth in "Milkman," a character initially so bland that he took no responsibility for his life. A resounding recapitulation of this theme was Measure for Measure in which the Duke of Vienna turns over responsibility for the state to Antonio, who then abuses it. Most significant of all, awards were given for the responsibility taken by two long-time Great Books discussion leaders (see story below). White cant prove it, he says, but he thinks the responsibility theme was decided and the reading selections were made to honor these beloved SFGB leaders.
Marge Scott & Stan Dennison are Honored for LeadershipFirst Lifetime Achievement Awards
Marjorie Scott and Stan Dennison were given SFGBs first lifetime achievement awards at Asilomar Saturday night. Each has over 35 years of service as a Great Books discussion leader.
Marjorie, joined by husband Robert, graciously received her award and valiantly remained on stage to be roasted by Bob McConnell. But Stan Dennison avoided such a public spectacle by having surgery, so the videotape of the ceremony will be sent to him.
Among the toasts: Roy Harvey, leader of the Barber Shop Quartet organization of Northern California, sang a song; Tom Cox, whose short stories are currently appearing in literary journals, read a poem that he had written for the occasion, and Sonia DeHazes read a reminiscence by Lee Jordan about the early days of the San Francisco Great Books Council.
Dennison is Serenaded (in Absentia)
In honor of Stan Dennison, Roy Harvey sang an ode to the tune of a British song "Old Father Thames." It was composed by Roy, Shirley Mortensen, and Jimmie Faris on the way to Asilomar, then polished up by Jimmie.
Hats off to Stan
The great leader man!
Whatever the reading may be
Novels or poetry.
Whoever is next
Stay with the text.
What does the author mean?
Stan is superlative
With questions interpretive
A star on the Great Books scene.
Whenever Stan is leading
You're in for quite a treat.
No matter what the reading
Here's to you Stan!
Great leader man!
We wish you could be right here.
We want you to know
We all love you so.
We missed you so much this year.
Scott is Rhapsodized
To Marjorie, Burning Bright: Ode to Marjorieor Owed to Marjorie?
Written and Read By Tom Cox, with Apologies to William Blake
Marjorie, Marjorie, burning bright
As a leader our delight,
How came you by this feckless skill?
Of asking questions that can thrill?
Hail, Marjorie! You shine,
Bright in your eyes and in your mind,
You gleam, a beacon in life's mess
Of forest tangle, lies and stress,
An atomed morsel pure of energy
Hardly larger than the Large-Mouth Frog;
The two of you coeval in your curiosity
On what to feed here in the Bog.
On what, indeed? Of books, a steady diet,
Profusion constant as the forest's night,
Philosophy digestible, truth incontestible,
The everlasting youth of mindly bright--
What more can mothers feed their young,
Or a mother-friend her friends?
Mother courage, that is what, that
Tracks truth to its very ends.
Thus have you nurtured all of us
By leading well and strong and true
A life that testifies to friends
"There is no better you than you."
History is RecountedIn further honor of Stan Dennison, Sonia DeHazes read aloud this history. It had been told to Barbara McConnell by Lee Jordan.
Rumor Has It, Stan Never Removes His Jacket
Back in 1964, Bob Shepardson was leading a group in San Francisco. They met at New York Life Conference room. The group was falling apart so the few members went to Lee Jordans to devise a plan to get the group going again. They started arguing about what to do and Bob said, "Why cant we get a discussion going like this in Great Books?" They decided that if they met in a home with perhaps a glass of wine or a cup of coffee the discussions would be more lively. They then all called their friends. Lee called Stan and Joan Dennison and Tom Koehler. Bob later married Marion Millers and the group started meeting at their place. When Bobs father died, Bob and Marion moved into his home on Maywood Avenue. The Maywood group became an institution and is still meeting. At first the leadership was passed around the group, but it soon became apparent that Stan had the deepest insights and could ask the most thought-provoking questions, so he became the permanent leader.
The Parties Were Legendary
Marion was the Coordinator for the Asilomar conference so "the gang" arrived early, hunkered down at Tide Inn, and often unwound on the Monday following the conference. We were young then, and partying was a major part of the program along with many a philosophical discussion on one thing and another. Stan and Alex (Appell) were often the last of the merry makers to turn in. Many Saturday nights were spent on the beach where even Stan would remove his shoes and socksbut never his coat!!!!
Stans son Curtis claimed that "Father" (an affectionate name used by many of his close friends), "Father never read us nursery rhymes, instead he put us to sleep reading Aristotle, Plato and Hobbit." (Editors note: not Hobbes?) Curtis claims he would continue to read after they were asleep so Curtis and his brother David would have to race out the next day to catch up to where he left off. Furthermore, "Father" expected the house to be run like a library. Quiet was the rule.If you arrive at his home you are more than likely to find Stan, cigarette in hand, glass of wine on the table, reading a book. However, life with Stan, according to those who know him best, was not and is never boring.
A Bright Man, A Caring Man, A Gentleman
Stan retired from his job as a computer system designer having worked for Borden, Knudsen, British petroleum and the Water Department. His colleagues adored him. His dry wit, his exquisite brain, his patience with those who needed his help (sometimes in the middle of the night) put him in good stead with all of them.
A Look at the Books: The Asilomar Selections
By the EditorAbraham Lincolns Great Speeches
In Bob Calverts discussion we followed the the progression of Lincolns political views about slavery. Whether his private views were different is not expressed in this volume. In his early political career, his concern is to prevent expansion of slavery to the new territories---Kansas/Missouri and letting it die out gradually in the South.
Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
The first time through the book was confusing and depressing. As I reread the book it began to make sense, and peoples lives unfolded like a mystery. The writing reflects a themethat the stories we tell ourselves about our lives are tangled, and not always true. I agreed with Anne Holmess (Vallejo) characterization of it as a well-crafted novel, beautifully written. Leading a discussion was fun because many of my group had read the novel twice, and all were well-prepared. As Barbara McConnell (Sebastopol) said, you could do a whole discussion on either the characters or the themes. Plus the book has surrealism. It is a selection in Living with the Past volume in the new series.
Measure for Measure, by Wm. Shakespeare
Bea Petrocchi (Carmichael) led a feisty group that through their polarization over the characters of Duke and Antonio discovered the complexities of Shakespeares people. As we were reminded in the movie "Shakespeare in Love," Shakespeares stories werent original. But after the discussion I read the section at the back of my edition that showed his sources for this play and realized that the changes that Shakespeare made to the stories added the complexities of character.
I was impressed with long time leaders Marjorie Scott (Mill Valley) and Alex Appell (Fairfax), who had many pointed questions to keep the discussion going.
The real sleeper was "They Flee From Me" by Sir Thomas Wyatt, which turned out to have several interpretations. Louise DiMattio (San Francisco) had a cogent argument that the narrator was a priest. Another interpretation I heard about was he was a courtier who needed Viagra.
Wallis Leslie (Los Altos Hills) reports finding the poem several times on a list of poems that distinguished poets say help them get through life.
"The Bright Light of Responsibility." (Jennifer L. Knox) was an "in your face" poem whose vulgarities mocked societys acceptance of alcohol; but I was surprised (or as a poetry committee member, mortified) to find that "Sparrow" by William Koefkorn was interpreted in many groups as being about masturbation.
In other conversations: Kenneth Rexroths "Signature of All Things" would have been improved with a footnote about Boehme, suggested Vince Scardina (San Francisco). And several participants told me Percy Bysshe Shelleys "Ode to the West Wind" deserved more time.
Floor Cards Helped Participants Feel More Comfortable
Large name cards folded and placed in front of participants feet at Bea Petrocchis group at Asilomar helped us get to know each other and made it easier to comment on each others points. (Instead of pointing and saying: "To follow up on your comment, sorry, I dont remember your name ")
Ralston-White Review: Best Mystery In 40 YearsBy Jim Stabenau
(Editors Note: William Faulkner often wrote two versions of the same story. Jim has come up with an original interpretation of "Snopes.")
I came away from the Ralston White Retreat feeling like a Darwinian at a Creationist picnic. I believe that Faulkner wrote in ambiguity but did not just put words, phrases and paragraphs into the novel as sidebars or as fluff to fill out a long novel. In his Sherlock Holmes stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a physician, as I am, realized, as I believe Faulkner did, that it was the seemingly insignificant clue that led to the correct medical diagnosis or solved the murder mystery! Holmes noted in Silver Blaze that sometimes does not happen is as important as what does. In that story, the significant clue is that a dog didnt bark. That was the curious incident, remarked Holmes.
Consider looking again at Snopes without a bias of how you would like the story to end. Page 1051: "It was a big funeral: a prominent banker and financier who had not only died in his prime of a pistol wound, but from the wrong pistol wound."
Faulkners Shell Game
Page 1059: "a pistol, that he dropped or throwed it away while he was running through that back yard."
Page 1060: "It had two shells in it, the hull and another live one. The cap of the hull was punched all right, only it and the live one both had a little nick jest outside the cap."
A Holmesian analysis of the missing nick and the missing third shell might be the following: That there are two shells remaining in the pistol. One of the remaining shells is the unexploded but single-notched and the other is the fired and single-notched. The missing third shell would have two nicks whether or not it exploded, because Mink Snopes fired on the same shell twice when facing Flem.
Linda gave Mink her pistol and sent him out the front door of the house. She then removed the third cartridge, which was missing from the police examination. She put the gun in the back yard where the police found it.
Page 1060: "When Eck taken the live one out and turned the hull a little and set it back, under the hammer and cocked it, and snapped it. There was another them little nicks in the case."
The last missing item is that if Mink with one last bullet in the chamber cocked and snapped twice on the same third shell, there would be two nick on that shell--either a discharged shell or an unexploded shell. But Eck found a single nick on each shell (the empty and the undischarged shell) and no third shell!
The only conclusion that can be drawn by a Sherlock Holmes fan is that Linda not only shot Flem, but she wasnt deaf. She could hear all the time. Linda was in the doorway at the time Mink clicked the gun.
Later, she would drive to New York, alone.
Why am I bothering with this analysis? The last question in discussing the novel, about the killing of Flem, should have been:
Does it matter in understanding the meaning of the Faulkner novel if Linda Snopes rather than Mink Snopes killed Flem Snopes?
I believe the whole meaning of revenge and justice and the Snopes family bears on this issue. The meaning of the Snopes novel is different if we believe Mink Snopes killed another Snopes over a clan blood issue, rather than if we believe Linda took revenge for her mother (Eulas) death on Flem because she knew her mothers death was a direct result of Flems scheming. He had "unpinned the $20 gold piece," i.e. sacrificed Eula, to get his bank presidency.
Linda out-Snopsed a Snopse.
Cassettes Aid Sight-Impaired at "Visions From Classics" Group
The Vision from Classics Study Group meets to read great literature monthly on the second Thursday from 4-6 p.m. at the new Main Library in San Francisco. The group usually meets in Room M-66 near the Grove Street entrance.
Audio cassettes of readings are provided to visually impaired members.
Contact Alvin D. Sered at (415)664-5941.Meet the Press: Introducing Me and My Agenda
Last issue was my first as editor replacing Rick White. But I ran out of space to introduce myself with all the articles on traveling with Great Books. (A new possibility for your vacation list is a Chicago national Great Books conference in 2000 to be sponsored by the Great Books Foundation.)
I welcome contributionsfrom one line to a column, letters, questions. I reserve the right to use or edit. Mail to Mary Wood, 1001 Shoreline Drive #207, Alameda, CA 94501. Or e-mail me (reference Great Books in the subject line, please) at email@example.com.
I am coordinator of the Poetry Committee and co-leader of the Alameda group. After being editor of my high school newspaper and majoring in English literature in college, Ive been a government bureaucrat in a business environment for 29.33 years. So Great Books fills a big gap in my life.
Why was I picked for editor? Dear departed Coordinator Laura Holt Rubin told Rick White I had a sense of humor, either because I gave her light-up shoelaces, or she admired my parody of the poetry committee and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
My goals for Reading Matters are:
1. To be the tie that binds: Reading Matters is the infrastructure between the council and the groups.
2.To Emulate Sports Writers:
In my "Year of Watching Basketball," I noticed that sports fans read about the game coming up, watch the game, and then read about the game they just watched. And so with our events.
3. To Support Groups:
Id especially like articles or quotes from readers about their groups.
4. To review literature:
Id like reviews from you about the readings from events and new series. And for our next issue, to follow up on the crossing of genres at poetry weekend (art & poetry), articles about same, or about books versus movies or books versus opera, etc.
5. To answer questions:
It takes time being around a group to find out whats going on. Send your questions here.
6. To promote the expansion of Great Books:
Well report on ideas and efforts to start groups and to train leaders in Shared Inquiry.
FAQ: A Great Books Primer
Question: Who selects the readings for the events?
Answer: The essay, play, and novel for Asilomar are picked by a committee headed by Nancy Wortman . The committee fluctuates but includes Grace Dennison, Vince Scardina, Louise DiMattio, Phyllis & Dick Stephens, Tom Cox, and Duke Edwards. The group also picks the novel for the picnic weekend.
Catherine Sugrue, current coordinator for the Ralston-White novel weekend, collects suggestions at the novel weekend and throughout the year. This years choice, Charles Dickenss Our Mutual Friend," was influenced by the popularity of the TV series.
Poetry for events is selected by a committee of Carol Fistler, Ruth Korn, Brent Browning, Elizabeth Deane, Jan Fussell, Gary Geltemeyer, Wallis Leslie, Chuck Scarcliff, and Mary Wood. Poems are exchanged in advance of meetings. Selection is by vote after lots of discussion, mainly about "discussibility" that is, we try not to choose poems that are self-evident.
Expert Tips Help Leaders To Have Great Discussions
Tom Cox and Barbara McConnell work hard at leader pre-discussions for Asilomar and other events. Here is a self-evaluation checklist leaders were given:
I created a seating chart.
I used a seating chart for notes.
I asked the opening question
and waited for an answer.
I looked at respondent as they were speaking.
I watched for members who looked like they wanted to speak.
I pressed for complete answers.
I used specific follow-up questions to expand the
I encouraged interaction among participants.
I kept my opinions to myself.
I continued to bring participants back to the text.
I asked questions that were non-threatening -- i.e. What
was the most important character for you?
I referred to page and line where possible.
I had "non-participants" read from text when doing
I balanced the participation so that everyone had a
chance to participate.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR! (Dates are firm)
June 5-6 (Sat-Sun.) Poetry Weekend, Alamo
Westminster Retreat Center
Registrar: Carol Fistler
September 19 Annual Meeting, Novel & Picnic
Cheese Factory, Petaluma
Chair: Nancy Wortman
November 6-7 Novel Weekend
Ralston-White, Mill Valley
Registrar: Kyra Hubis
AND WATCH FOR (Dates to be announced)
October : Leader Training, San Francisco
Fall 1999: Mini-retreat: "And Justice for All" Chair: Fiona Humphrey
IS EVERYONE IN YOUR GROUP GETTING THIS NEWSLETTER?
Group leaders and coordinators, please send rosters to Wallis Leslie at the return address on this newsletter.
SAN FRANCISCO GREAT BOOKS COUNCIL Rick White, President; Tom Cox, Vice President; Secretary (vacant); Grace Apple Dennison, Treasurer
Reading MattersMary Wood, Editor 1001 Shoreline Dr. #207, Alameda, CA 94501 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick White, Publisher
San Francisco Great Books Council
c/o Wallis Leslie
27240 Moody Road
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022