Vol. 5 No. 1
publication of the SAN FRANCISCO GREAT BOOKS COUNCIL
A beautiful drive through the country, and then great food, great reading, and great
what could be a more perfect day than The Annual Picnic, Election, and
Discussion of the Great Books Council (Serving Northern California).
The barbecue and potluck begin at 12 in the picnic grounds of The Cheese Factory near Petaluma. The grills will be ready for you to cook food you bring. Also bring a potluck dish for four, your own beverages, and picnicware---utensils, tablecloth. Or, purchase sandwiches and drinks at the Cheese Factory.
Following a State of the Council address by outgoing (in both senses of the word) President Rick White, new officers will be elected.
A discussion of White Noise by Dom DeLillo will end the event. In The New York Times Book Review, Jayne Anne Phillips calls DeLillo One of the most ironic, intelligent, grimly funny voices to comment on life in present-day America. Your editors opinion on another book by the same author: entertaining and puzzling.
The picnic usually attracts about 45 people; but there is room for lots more under the trees and in the sun. Call President Rick White if you need help arranging a ride (510)527-3762.
Directions: Highway 101 to Marin to Delong Avenue Exit (Novato). One mile on Delong West to Novato Blvd. Right on Novato Blvd. & continue westward for 9 scenic miles to junction with Point Reyes-Petaluma Road. Turn left, drive ½ mile to Cheese Factory. Drive to rear past white-washed shed for parking.
"Morning, noon, and night will be covered by Great Books at Rossmoor," said Ted Kraus in a press release for the Rossmoor newsletter. Ted and Joanna started an evening group meeting fourth Mondays to complement the morning and afternoon Rossmoor groups started 10 years ago by Jan Fussell.
Using the 10th anniversary of the original two groups as a promotional point, Ted advertised a free demonstration of the Great Books shared inquiry method. He attracted 33 people to the discussion, leading to three more members each for the morning and afternoon groups and 10 signups for the Kraus evening group.
Brian Mahoney and Lou Alanko led the demonstration discussion. Brian really did the work, says Lou, I lent moral support. The selection used was In Tennessee by H. L. Mencken, an essay about the Scopes trial from a 1925 issue of The Nation.
In the 50s, Jean Packard enjoyed being a member of Great Books in Mexico City. After looking for years, she found a small article in the AARP bulletin about Great Books, called the Chicago office and was put in contact with SF Council President Rick White.
Rick gave me the addresses of a couple groups, she says, but I wanted one here. Rick offered to do a demonstration meeting and brought in Brent and Erma Browning to help. Jean advertised the meeting in the Los Altos Town Crier. I had no idea how many people would be interested, she says. I got 30 calls right away.
And about 30 people showed up for the first meeting. Brent enlisted Wallis Leslie, and together they are mentoring the group. Prior to the meeting, Brent and Wallis meet with first-time leaders for a half hour. The group is rotating leaders.
The most difficult thing, according to Brent, with any group, not just new groups, is outside references. Brent says he and Wallis help impose some discipline. The last 15 minutes are left for outside references and relating the literature to personal life.
Now 18 strong, the group is discussing the old second series. The group meets second Tuesdays from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Los Altos library. Contact Jean Packard (650)941-7033.
Lee Hunter has started a group in San Lorenzo 1st Mondays from 6 to 8 p.m. at the San Lorenzo Library on Paseo Grande. Call Lee at (510)278-5192.
East Bay Expansion
Were only limited by energy and manpower to start and maintain groups in bookstores," says Lou Alanko, the Alameda and Contra Costa County area coordinator. Lou recently received inquiries from Barnes and Noble at Fishermans Wharf, Berkeley, and Walnut Creek to start groups. Rick White will mentor the Berkeley group, which will read the new Great Books anthology of Jewish literature Soul of the Text. Rick also will mentor a San Francisco group, while Brian and Lou mentor the Walnut Creek group.
Already busy with the Pleasanton group, Brian and Lou also started a group in Dublin at Barnes and Noble, which will read the anniversary series. Two independent bookstores, Goodenough in Livermore and Town Center in downtown Pleasanton, also are considering groups, and Benicia will get a group in the fall. Lou also is in contact with a high school teacher who wants to get Great Books into the curriculum.
Lou's advice: Keep meeting announcements in several local papers to generate calls. Then, follow up by sending information packets to your new contact.
The Poetry Weekend will be held November 11-12 at Westminster in Alamo. Participants
will join pilgrims to Canterbury for the featured work, Chaucers Canterbury Tales.
It should be a quiet trip after traveling with Odysseus at the Kerr Weekend.
(Please see signup form on facing page.)
Nature poetry and a potpourri of poems round out the schedule for the weekend. The management at Westminster has promised us fire in the living room fireplace, so we can curl up by the fire in case of cold weather. As Westminster was often sweltering in June and July, there is only moderate mourning for the date change.
The move to November is a result of switching times with the novel weekend. There was no expansion space at Ralston White, so the novel weekend was moved to Clark Kerr campus, which is a dorm during the school year and only available in the summer.
NEW SEASON: Weve moved to the fall and given our
summer spot to the Long Novel Weekend. (Larger quarters for the Novel weekend were
available in the summer.) Following the success of the Odyssey and Iliad, we have
picked a great classic to discuss as well
SATURDAY MORNING: CANTERBURY TALES Take a pilgrimage with us to Canterbury with this entertaining English classic.
SATURDAY AFTERNOON: NATURE POEMS Changing the meeting date from summer to fall got us thinking about seasons and nature. Having discussed poems about art last year, we thought this might be a pleasant contrast.
Saturday Evening: Fireside Party
Curl up before the fire on a cold November night for a party with the great company of other great bookies.
SUNDAY MORNING: POTPOURRI
WHEN: Starts Saturday at 9:00 a.m. for registration. Ends Sunday after lunch.
REGISTRATION: Policy first come, first served 50 spots available.
CANCELLATION: Before Oct 11, fees will be refunded, less a charge for materials and postage.
NO REFUNDS after October 11
ROOMS: Accommodations are in the Manor and the Lodge. The Manor is an old mansion and the Lodge a barnlike building. Rooms are mostly upstairs and dormitory style. There are a few double rooms. Downstairs rooms (not private) are located in the Lodge. For fully handicapped, the small dining room can be converted into a bedroom. The meeting rooms are handicap accessible However, please call Westminster to verify your wheelchair will fit through the restroom door. (510)837-4481
PRICE: The price is $125 for which includes overnight accommodations, book, readings, mailing expenses, four meals, snacks, and a party. Other recreation: hiking trails.
Mail registration form to
1113 Singingwood Ct. #3
Walnut Creek CA 94595
By Mary Wood
Finding the Path was the Asilomar theme for Spring 2000, announced Council President Rick White, although as usual, the committee denied any theme. An alternate theme, Losing the Path was your editors suggestion, based on the unintelligible Aristotle Ethics selection, the wandering characters of Blindness, and St. Joans carrying her campaign a little too far. Supporting this theme from the poetry is But still, on the ocean, there is no path from Millennium, and the soul takes off, a wandering, moral drug, from Indian Summer II by Charles Wright.
Thirty new participants came to Asilomar this year and were welcomed by Kyra Hubis at a hospitality gathering Friday night. Meeting at 5:30 p.m. before the first events, new participants had a 45-minute orientation about the schedule, the program, and advice finding ones way around. Additionally, large red dots were placed on the name tags of each first time attendee. One especially outstanding participant was heard to ask, Does the red dot mean people are supposed to tell me they like my comments?
As to the poetry selections, as a committee member, I assure you that we did NOT have a theme. However, 4 of the 5 poems contrasted daily life with an intimation of the divine or the soul. I have two explanations for this: humans seek patterns; or the committee members were all in a similar mood the day we picked poems.
According to word of mouth, Millenium" by David Whyte was the big success; it is a poem about self discovery. The Wish for Some Release by Albert Goldbarth used the metaphor of trepanning, or drilling a hole in the brain. The incessant arguing of a couple in the next booth at a restaurant is compared with the innate nature of man being the progeny of stars the original core-born elements in new recombination, condensed and sizzled into sentience and soul. Earthly landscapes were also contrasted with the starry eternal one in Sweet Will by Philip Levine, about workers in a machine shop, and Charles Wrights Indian Summer II.
Totally in its own realm, The Last Duchess inspired debate, which surprised me, as to whether the duke really had the duchess killed.
Although several participants said that the Aristotle translation was awful," said Rick White the sessions were so good that some joked that a bad translation was the way to guarantee a good discussion.
Aristotle argued that virtue is not innate, but the result of education, and only by actions can a man be called good, and without action he is not. Our group debated whether Aristotles arguments were meant to apply to everyone or just the elite of a community, excluding such as women and slaves.
Richard Mohley commented that he thought the value was in the process, not the conclusions. Richard said that although Aristotles thoughts were for himself in his world, he taught us how to think about life for ourselves, in our own world. Since Aristotle was a rich, free citizen of Athens, his conclusions naturally ignored slaves, women, illiterates, non-Greeks, cross dressers, Lithuanian belly dancers, and others.
The novel, Blindness, by Nobel Prize winning Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, was grim. In the novel, an epidemic of blindness attacks an unnamed city, and almost everyone except a doctors wife becomes blind. The writing style was strangefor example, conversations were not punctuated with quotes or paragraphed for different speakersthey just ran on. None of the characters had names. Both the blindness and the cure were staggeringly random. Blindness seemed to suggest that it was mans blind involvement in trivial life that led to the epidemic of blindness. The note in the frontispiece suggests the theme: If you can see, look. If you can look, observe.
I loved George Bernard Shaws Saint Joan," especially the preface. Although participants had been told to read the preface, leaders were instructed to exclude it. Somehow I always get caught: one of my group turned me in for leading the preface.
Shaw creates a woman who could have been inspired by God or divinely confident of her own abilities. In the play, Joan says she will fight till the King is crowned. Conveniently for the King, but not the nobility, she succeeds. But she wants to continue fighting, and because she no longer has support is captured by the English. Although Shaw is a man of ideas, his characters, who are so like the fallible people we know, overpower the ideas.
Her yellow hair, her yellow hair Wallis Leslie was haunted by this
phrase from a poem discussed at Asilomar, Indian Summer II by Charles Wright.
She found a website http://www.websonar.com/websonar/sonar.html
for looking up literary phrases. Once within the site, look under Wisdom Quest
Multimedia. Turns out Wallis was thinking of not your yellow hair from
W. B. Yeats' poem For Anne Gregory.
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.
To provide a forum for great bookies to discuss ideas, Wallis Leslie has set up
an egroup on the web. "Now when you get that flash of insight
at 3 in the morning, says Wallis, you can send it into cyberspace, thus adding
a Silicon Valley twist to the French staircase wit."
Wallis set up the group through eGroups, a free email service that also provides a way to store photos and files, coordinate events, and more. Although called a group, the technical name is listserve and list is the membership roster. By typing one address in your email programs TO line, you send a message to everyone in the group.
First you need to join the group.
Go to the site: http://www.egroups.com/subscribe/SFGBooks and click on register or subscribe and fill in the blanks. You will receive a message in your email saying you have been accepted. Once you are a member of the group you can send a letter to everyone in the group by going into your email program and typing in the TO: line SFGBooks@egroups.com. If you receive an email message that shows bcc," it means blind carbon copy. According to the technical staff where I work, when a server is down, the system will attempt to re-send the message to all recipients until its a successful delivery for all. This means that many recipients can receive multiple copies of the same message. Email programs that use bcc can avoid this. Therefore, in Lotus Notes, emails can be sent as follows:
To: your email address
Subject : whatever
Reading Previous Messages
Catch up with what others have been writing by viewing previously posted messages that are archived on the website. You will need a password. If you cant find or lose your password, go to the website and register (sign in) and follow the instructions for lost password.
You can also send a message directly from the website instead of from your email program. Go to POST. Usually when you sign in, the website will say Welcome and your name. If it says Welcome Guest then go to Sign in and sign in with your name and password.
By Oscar Firschein
Users of the Internet are familiar with the idea of hypertext, a literary narrative that consists of a network of linked blocks of text, one that allows the reader to select from a multiple of story paths, reading in a non-linear manner. There can be many possible beginnings, and there is no designated ending in this new computer-based medium.
Authors of hypernarrative vary in the amount of control they give to the reader. Some authors provide a map of the narrative with the links and blocks labeled, allowing the reader to explore at will. Others will not let the reader peruse a block of text until other blocks of text are first read.
My favorite hypernarrative is the beautifully written Patchwork Girl, a takeoff on Mary Shelleys book Frankenstein. Both Mary Shelley and her now female creation are central characters in the story. There are five ways to begin the narrative. As we explore these various threads, we discover the story of Mary Shelleys patching together of a woman from body parts stolen from cemeteries, and the adventures of the creature, Patchwork Girl.
Hypertext novels, such as Patchwork Girl, are sold in floppy disk or CD-ROM form on their website by Eastgate Systems, http://www.eastgate.com, for about the price of a conventional book. You can read hypertext poetry and narrative online at sites such as the Web magazine Hyperizons, www.duke.edu/~mshumate/hyperfic.html, or use your favorite search engine on search terms such as hypernarrative or hyperfiction.
Location, Location, Location
I love this place, Id like to live here, said Althea Ippolito of the Clark Kerr campus where the long novel weekend was held.
Built around a courtyard and surrounded by a stone wall from 1869, the campus features Spanish style buildings constructed in the 1920-40s. Formerly the California Schools for the Deaf and Blind, the campus is a dorm during the school year.
Offering a commuter rate was a hit with this close-in location, although accommodations were luxurious after Ralston Whites attic. Mostly suites, both shared and single rates were offered.
Fagles Provides Good Read in Fast-Paced Verse
Rudy Johnson, chair of the Kerr Weekend says, Like many contemporary people, I knew the Iliad and Odyssey only vaguely and had never read them carefully.
So verse translations by Robert Fagles of both the Iliad and Odyssey were provided to Kerr Weekend participants as the
Odyssey presumes knowledge of the Iliad.
As well as a new site, a new discussion format highlighted the Kerr weekend. The four groups stayed together for all sessions. However, the leaders changed. But each of the four leaders lead all three sessions to ensure continuity between discussions. Shouldering the load were Jim Stabenaugh, Chuck Scarcliff, Rick Flynn, and Brian Mahoney.
After finishing the Iliad, your editors first response to the Odyssey was, where is the wooden horse? But as participant Althea Ippolito pointed out, the Odyssey is told in a series of flashbacks. It begins 10 years after the Trojan War has ended with Telemachus, Odysseus son.
In a way, the Odyssey is a family story. In the first part, Telemachus breaks away from his mother and travels to visit Menelaus and Nestor and learn the story of his father. The settled relationship of Menelaus and Helen is a striking contrast to the Iliad where Helen had run away with Paris. It also contrasts with the fight that begins the Iliad: the fight between the married Agamemnon and Achilles over a war trophy, the woman Briseis. The stability of the Trojan families, as shown in the relationship between Hector and Andromache, is ended by the death and destruction of the city.
Odysseus as Hero
Linda Coffin points out that after Odysseus grows in self control in his various trials, he is at last able to return home. The appeal of the Odyssey is that it is attainable, said another participant, it shows something to strive for rather than something heroic.
The Odyssey is a story about marriage as well as about Odysseus reestablishing his authority over his household, which has been inundated by suitors for Penelope. This clever wife has remained faithful for 20 years. She tests Odysseus with a secret of marriage, a little incident that shows the magic of couples.
I love Athenas makeovers, said Wallis Leslie, referring to the goddess way of making heroes look larger, shining, and more muscular or old and emaciated if the plot calls for it.
Fortunately, says your editor, the Fagles translation of the Odyssey moves at a fast pace with easy to read language. The Iliad, by contrast, was full of blood and guts, and even though Im a dedicated Mad Max and Terminator fan, it was way too real.
Dr. Stroud Offers Insights into Iliad
Mysteries of the Iliad and Odyssey were explored by Dr. Ronald Stroud in an entertaining after dinner speech at Kerr weekend. Dr. Stroud, professor of classics at U. C. Berkeley, concentrated on the questions of when the events might have occurred, and how the poems might have been transmitted.
The Legend of Troy
Up until 150 years ago, Troy was considered legendary. Although to the Greeks Troy was history, no rich civilization of large cities as described in the Iliad had been found by archaeologists. Until 150 years ago, existing finds dated back to the 8th century BC. Called the geometric period after patterns in pottery, it was characterized by tiny houses, no silver or gold; and cremations with only a few pots in the grave. Compare these with the elements of the cities of the Iliad: huge palaces, fortified citadels, rich cities with gold and silver, royal burial offerings, and chariot fights. None of these had been found in Greece or were known to Grecians.
Heinrich Schliemann grew up believing there was a Troy. After emigrating to the US, and making his fortune selling supplies to miners during the California Gold Rush, he went to a grubby little Turkish village as Dr. Stroud described it, to dig where Troy was reputed to be. And found 10 Troys--10 layers of cities. Layer 7A is probably the level that corresponds to the time that the Greeks believed the Iliad took place. In this layer, a city destroyed by fire dating about 1300-1230 BC. contains fortified walls, large storage jars, large numbers of arrowheads, and skeletons lying in the street. It appears to have been abandoned for a couple hundred years, and then another city was constructed on the remains.
In the 1900s, on Crete, Sir Arthur Evans, an expert in ancient scripts continued aborted excavations begun by Minos Kalokairinos and later Schliemann of the Minoan civilization at Knossos. Evans went to bedrock and discovered elaborate burials such as in the Iliad in a royal cemetery with gold, silver, ivory, crystal, weapons, jewelry, and death masks,
In 1939 and then after World War II, Carl W. Blegen, a classical archaeologist at the University of Cincinnati, excavated in Troy. He also went to Pylos, where Nestor reportedly lived and discovered a Bronze Age palace or administrative center, as the sites website prefers to call it.
Dr. Stroud showed slides of all of these excavations, bringing back memories of Greek travel to many of the other participants and inspiring others to go there for the first time.
Dr. Stroud's second topic was the transmission of the poems. Up until 150 years ago, no record of
written Greek was discovered before 750 BC. At this time, the Greeks adopted an alphabet from the Phoenicians. Schliemann had excavated tablets within Crete with strange marks that proved to be two languages (Linear A and Linear B) dating long before the 8th century. Linear A has not been translated. Linear B was decoded by Sir Arthur Evans, establishing that Greece had a written language of 88 signs for syllables (vowel plus consonant) dating back to the period 1500-1200 BC
Greece apparently had a language at the time the Iliad might have occurred, and lost it. How, then were the poems transmitted?
As described in Bernard Knox' Introduction to the Fagles translation, the question of whether so long a poem could be transmitted orally was resolved by American scholar Milman Parry. He analyzed the ornamental epithets," the standardized descriptions of people and gods that reoccur, and studied the illiterate bards performing and improvising in Yugoslavia. Knox says Parry proved that Homer was an heir to a tradition of improvised, oral, epic poetry that reached back over many generations.
Stroud hypothesizes that Homer was at the end of a long tradition of oral transmission, and that when Homer's version of the Iliad and Odyssey was written down, the other versions were superseded and forgotten because his was the best.
The names and addresses of Great Books participants are kept by Wallis Leslie, who would like to pass on the job. The database includes rosters of clubs, frequent reader roster of participants, and the main database that is used for sending Reading Matters. At times, the database manager is requested to pull lists to send out event advertisements. Currently Wallis is converting it to MS Access, which is a popular database program. This job can be done at home at your own pace and time. It does require frequent data entry, but this can be accumulated.
Publicizes Great Books events.
San Francisco Area Coordinator
Respond to public inquiries, keep track of existing groups, and either start new groups or find volunteers to help. Much of this can be done by phone.
The newsletter is published free by the San Francisco Great Books Council (Serving
Northern California). However donations to help pay for printing and mailing are
warmly welcomed. Please make check to Great Books Council, write newsletter in the
memo line, and send to our treasurer
Grace Apple Dennison,
35 Fairmont Drive
Daly City, CA 94015
Q. How did the San Francisco Great Books council get started?
A. Lee Jordan, former treasurer, unofficial historian, and council member for 28 years says: The purpose of the council was Asilomar and the annual meeting. The council planned when to go to Asilomar and what to read. Then Marian Shepardson handled the rest from start to finish. We didnt have any money, but Asilomar only required a small deposit, so we paid the deposit with the first registrations. I loved Asilomar. We liked it the way it was falling down. We called it Castle Collapso.
The first annual meeting I went to was in Stern Grove: we discussed Bartleby the Scrivener in the mistalmost raining but not quite."
Bob Shephardson was the head of the council. When Bob died, he left $2,500 to the council through Marian Shephardson. Then we could deal with emergencies, like the year of the gas crisis when Asilomar registration dropped. I worked hard to build the treasury, and I think we should take a half page ad in the book section of the newspaper to advertise Great Books.
Sunday, September 17
Annual Meeting, Novel & Picnic
Cheese Factory, Petaluma; Chair: Nancy Wortman
Sunday, October 8
For information, contact your group leader, area coordinator, or Barbara McConnell (707) 829-5643
Saturday, November 11 & Sunday, November 12
Poetry Weekend Canterbury Tales
Westminster Retreat, Alamo; Registrar: Ruth Korn
Friday, March 30-Sunday, April 1, 2001
Asilomar: Poetry, Essay, Novel, Play