In February 2018, the Great Books Group in Gainesville, Florida, will celebrate its 20th anniversary. Perhaps even more noteworthy than that, we will have met every month for the past 20 years, often more than once a month. Currently we are at 234 months and counting.
I am the only person still around who attended the group’s first meeting, and I have led all but 13 of the discussions. We have two or three people remaining from our initial Barnes & Noble phase, a couple from our Borders period, and the rest who have signed on since we started meeting at one of our county’s branch libraries.
Our average attendance has risen from 6-8 at its lowest to a high point of 14-16, and now rests at our present level of about 12. We are 40% male, 60% female. Most of us are retirees.
What have we read? A brief sampling: eight Shakespeare plays, seven Bible portions, and seven Greek tragedies. (One of our long-time members insists we’re not a true Great Books group unless we’re regularly studying Shakespeare, the Bible, and the Greeks.) We have worked through many GBF anthologies, including the six-volume Great Conversations series.
About 10 years ago we spun off a Novels Group, and much more recently a Poetry Group. These two were preceded by a Henry James Club, which survived for about a year and a half, briefly morphing into a Franz Kafka Club.
Why have we prospered? I believe it’s because we have stuck to the guidelines suggested by the Great Books Foundation. This approach has attracted people who are willing to prepare diligently and listen to each other well.
We often end a morning’s conversation with a potluck meal at someone’s home, followed by a film version of the selection. We smile—and even laugh—a lot during our serious conversations, and we value one another’s contributions. When people praise my leading, I say it’s easy to conduct the New York Philharmonic.