We love little more than hearing how Great Books impacts people lives. We recently received a lovely email from long-term supporter Helen Smith and want to share her experience with you.
My association with Great Books began in 1948 when I joined a Great Books leader-training group at the Providence, Rhode Island public library. In those days most of the reading assignments consisted of the entire work, not excerpts, and all selections were from the Western world. There we learned the method of asking questions dealing with fact, interpretation, and evaluation—techniques that served and continue to serve me well in my own leading, teaching, and reading. When I was a young mother at home raising my family, I formed a group among my neighbors. I remember one participant’s amazement that she was discussing Shakespeare—even though she hadn’t graduated from high school.
I continued to stay involved in Great Books throughout my life. I credit Great Books groups for my ease with graduate course work. When I taught an Honors English course at Sienna College in New York, the syllabus was, of course, the Great Books reading and discussion program. Later, when I became the Executive Dean of a community college in Pittsburgh, I led a Great Books group for faculty in my office, including a philosophy professor!
As a retiree, I formed a group at the Salisbury, North Carolina public library, and when we moved to Texas I became active in programming at the Round Rock Community Center (now The Baca Center). I started a Great Books group there in 1995, and although members have come and gone through the years, the group has continued without pause and is going strong with 16 active members. We meet monthly and alternate leaders. Most participants attend every session and schedule appointments and travel so they don’t miss one. When I ma not leading, I act as backup, making sure everyone who wants to talk has a chance; following through with questions at times; tactfully limiting those who are prone to monopolize; and assuring that observations and comments relate to the discussion. (You taught me well.)
Through the years we have run the gamut of your catalog: The Adult Great Books Reading and Discussion Series; Introduction to Great Books (at least twice); Great Conversations 1-5; The Seven Deadly Sins; 4 volumes of The 50th Anniversary Series; and now Counterparts. (I should confess that for three years of our meetings we resorted to Penguin paperbacks.)
Great Books discussion groups have always been an integral part of my life. When I was a student, both undergraduate and graduate, the readings and discussions taught me to evaluate all the new information coming my way. As a stay at home mom, Great Books provided me with an outlet where I could talk (with people over three feet tall) about issues beyond the mundane topics of child rearing and house keeping. As a teacher, and later as an administrator, I always found that Great Books groups gave me greater insights into my students and colleagues than I would otherwise have had. Now, as a (really) senior citizen, Great Books continues to provide me not only with the challenge to keep mentally alert and to remain concerned with vital issues, but it has also given me a cadre of like minded individuals, many of whom have become my closest friends. Thank you.