The Noodle Group

I work at the Great Books Foundation and I’m in a book group. I love books, I love discussing, I’m an English major . . . gotta have a book group. I belong to the Noodle Group, avid readers and discussers, some are Great Books staff members or former staff, and many more from outside the organization. We’ve met every third Thursday without fail for about 15 years.

The group is so great. Anne, our host, somehow cobbles together a lovely dinner every time—either by cooking a soup or casserole herself and relying on the rest of us for add-ons, or through one or more of us volunteering to bring whatever moves us that month. I’m the cornbread king, Alice is the rhubarb queen. Everyone brings wine. There’s always dessert.

We eat, we chat, we laugh, then we discuss.

I shouldn’t confess to this, but we don’t have a leader. We’re all so practiced in discussion, we sort of take turns leading, asking key questions, drawing each other out, goading each other . . . and it works. We usually get deep into the heart of the matter, and I always leave wanting to meet again the next day to talk about what we missed or didn’t probe as adequately as I’d have liked to. Actually, I often want to drive back while I’m on my way home and get right back at those burning questions and ideas.

Over time I’ve learned that I learn about the people in the group as much as I learn about the things we read. Barth is a cool guy, but he has a surprisingly strong moral side, almost Victorian, and he and I always knock heads during discussions. Denise is “The Citer”—if we’re struggling to find a passage that has come up, she’ll find it within seconds. Must have a photographic memory. And you better not interrupt Alice. A couple weeks ago she made me feel like a little boy when I started to speak while she was speaking. She turned to me and said quite forcefully, “What was I going to say?” She was right. I needed to be quiet and wait my turn!

Just recently I’ve noticed that Heather is extremely considerate, in that, she will consider an idea that is completely opposed to one she just voiced, and then talk about the merits of the opposing views. In that way she sometimes talks herself into a different interpretation. It’s really gratifying to see the value she puts on others’ opinions. This strikes me because I’m one of those people that can’t wait to voice his opinion.

Another great thing we’ve had over the last few years is participation of the next generation. Anne’s daughter, Dana, is absolutely razor-sharp and so happy to talk with us. If Denise is The Citer, Dana is the SuperCiter. She’s a law school student now, out of state, but when she’s in town, she’s at the Noodle.

My son, Nathaniel, got hooked when he came to discuss Maus as an eighth-grader. He got involved again more recently, and joins us via Skype or FaceTime even though he’s in New York at Columbia and we’re in Evanston, Illinois. He’s a talking head, but we can hear him fine, and he us . . . the distance participation thing works great. I can honestly say I’ve had more fun discussing literature with Nathaniel than I’ve ever had with him before. The text puts us on equal footing, just the way it’s supposed to, and I’ve found he’s a smart, respectful, and funny discusser.

Everyone in the Noodle is a great friend. And we read everything—books, Great Books, stories, poems . . . here’s a list of what we’ve read over the years.  Our engine in that regard is Mike, The Brain. He’s always thinking about books and poems, so when we need inspiration for the next text, we turn to him. It’s not always text, either: we watched The Mystery of Picasso and discussed that, while we watched and afterwards. That’s what I love about Shared Inquiry: you can discuss anything!  But I’ll tell you a couple of my all-time favorite discussions: of Flaubert’s Parrot, by Julian Barnes, and of three consecutive short stories, by Alice Munro, from Runaway: “Chance,” “Soon,” and “Silence.” They go together, they are unbeatable.

Mike and Anne










Noodle group members Anne Gendler and Mike Levine.

Dan Lindstrom is the marketing coordinator for the Great Books Foundation. When he isn’t reading for his next Noodle Group, he’s watching Premier League football (soccer to any confused Americans), listening to music, playing hockey, or hanging out with his wife and two sons.  

  1. Alice Dunlap-Kraft says:

    It was indeed a fascinating discussion with a delightful group. Our Mutual Friend was so much fun to read and so hard to put down that it was a treat to think deliberately about it for those 15 hours. The variety of perspectives among our group on the psychology and motivations of the characters was fascinating. I especially enjoyed Nancy’s questions about tests of character and relationships posed in the plot, who failed the tests, who surpassed them, and why. It was a wonderful week at Toronto Pursuits.

  2. Jess Hungate says:

    Nancy, this is a great note on Classical Pursuits, which I encourage all to consider attending, as well as on Dickens and the Shared Enquiry (TM) approach more generally. I remember with such fondness our consideration last year of that greatest of all (OK, well almost all) books, Middlemarch. The book, the July in Toronto, your leadership, and reading and discussion in general – all very highly recommended. I look forward to Classical Pursuits next July!!

  3. Nancy Carr says:

    Thank you, Jess! I’ve learned a great deal from participants at Classical Pursuits over the years, and I look forward to it each summer.

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