About Great Books at Colby

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Great Books at Colby is our annual week of lively discussion at Colby College. We are a community of people who enjoy reading and discussing good books.

Have you ever closed a book after reading the last page and wished you could share your thoughts with someone? Colby offers an opportunity to collaborate in discovering insights rarely achieved just reading alone. Located on a beautiful campus, the college has a great library, the admission free Colby Museum of Art, a bookstore, tennis courts and first-class athletic facilities with a swimming pool, as well as waterfront property at a nearby lake open to Great Books participants. It offers an inexpensive but classy vacation where readers who love to think and talk about the world’s great literary works can derive pleasure from spending time with others who share that enthusiasm. For two hours each day, readers discuss their understanding of thought-provoking classics through the Great Books Foundation’s Shared Inquiry Method. Join us in examining how these great writers view this process.

Registration covers books and discussions, as well as lectures, films, group social activities, use of the athletic facilities and tennis courts, and a real Maine lobster bake. On campus registration includes a single or double dormitory room (six nights: Sunday through Friday) and all meals. You can stay over Saturday night either before the week (July 16th) or after the week (July 23rd) for an additional charge. Either night allows you to attend the Atlantic Music Festival’s outstanding free classical music concert. We also offer a Children’s Program for ages three and above. Commuters participate in all activities, but live on their own, off-campus, and receive lunch each day and the Friday night lobster bake.

The Books

Adult Selections
July 21-July 27, 2019
Great Books at Colby:
Memory & Consciousness

Monday: In Search of Memory Eric Kandel

In Search of Memory
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2000, Eric Kandel intertwines the intellectual history of the powerful new science of the mind - a combination of cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and molecular biology - with his own personal quest to understand memory. A deft mixture of memoir and history, modern biology and behavior, this book brings readers from Kandel's childhood in Nazi-occupied Vienna to the forefront of one of the great scientific endeavors of the twentieth century: the search for the biological basis of memory.

Tuesday: Austerlitz W.G. Sebald

This modern masterpiece conveys the story of a man's search for the answer to his life's central riddle. A small child when he comes to England on a Kindertransport in the summer of 1939, Jacques Austerlitz is told nothing of his real family by the Welsh Methodist minister and his wife who raise him. When he is a much older man, fleeting memories return to him, and obeying an instinct he only dimly understands, Austerlitz traces their trail back to the world he left behind a half century before. There, faced with the void at the heart of twentieth-century Europe, he struggles to rescue his heritage from oblivion.

Wednesday: Missing Person, Patrick Modiano

Missing Person
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2014, Patrick Modiano portrays a man in pursuit of the identity he lost in the murky days of the Paris Occupation, the black hole of French memory. On one level Missing Person is a detective thriller, a 1950's film noir mix of smoky cafes, illegal passports, and insubstantial figures crossing bridges in the fog. On another level, it delivers a haunting meditation on the nature of the self. Guy Roland has lived for ten years without a past. He persistently interviews strangers and is tantalized by half-clues until, at last, he grasps a thread that leads him through the maze of his own repressed experience.

Thursday: Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro

Remains of the Day
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017, Kazuo Ishiguro presents a profoundly compelling portrait of the perfect English butler and of his fading, insular world in postwar England. At the end of his three decades of service at Darlington Hall, Stevens embarks on a country drive, an odyssey during which he reflects on his career to reassure himself that he has served humanity by serving "a great gentleman." But lurking in his memory are doubts about the nature of Lord Darlington's "greatness" and graver doubts about his own faith in the man he served.

Friday: Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively

Moon Tiger
Winner of the 1987 Booker Prize, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively is a powerful, moving and beautifully wrought novel about the ways in which lives are molded by personal memory and the collective past. Elderly Claudia Hampton, a best-selling author of popular history lies alone in a London hospital bed. Memories of her life still glow in her fading consciousness, but she imagines writing a history of the world. Instead, she envisions her life before, during and after World War II as she strove to be recognized as an independent free thinking woman of the time. The narrative is written from multiple points of view and moves backward and forward through time.

Saturday: Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abby
William Wordsworth

The Jilting of Granny Weatherall
Katherine Anne Porter

Seamus Heaney

These poems by Seamus Heaney and William Wordsworth and this short story by Katherine Anne Porter continue our exploration of meditations on memory and their affective influence on consciousness.

Junior Great Book Descriptions

Here are Junior Great Books by Year: 2009-2018

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Shared Inquiry—Discussion Guidelines

In shared inquiry, participants discuss fundamental questions raised by the text and help one another assess answers.  Participants come to a discussion with their own unique ways of viewing the selection, then build on that by sharing their ideas.

Discussion leaders provide direction and guidance by asking questions for which they genuinely do not know the answer. Questions are based on the text but the leader is not an expert. The group should not look to him or her for answers. 

Four Principles of a Shared Inquiry Discussion:

  • Only those who have read the selection may take part in discussion because participants who have not read the selection cannot support their opinions with evidence from the text, nor can they bring knowledge of the text to bear on the opinions of others.
  • Discussion is restricted to the selection that everyone has read.  This rule gives everyone an equal chance to contribute because it limits discussion to a selection familiar to all participants. 
    When the selection is the sole focus of discussion, everyone can determine whether facts are accurately recalled and opinions adequately supported.
  • Support for opinions should be found within the selection.  Participants may introduce outside opinions only if they can restate the opinions in their own words and support the ideas with evidence from the selection. 
    This rule encourages participants to read carefully and think for themselves.
  • Leaders only ask questions—they do not answer them.  Leaders help themselves and participants understand a selection by asking questions that prompt thoughtful inquiry.
    The leader assists the group by asking follow-up questions—questions that encourage participants to clarify comments, support ideas with evidence from the reading, and comment on proposed interpretations.

Discussions will be richer and more productive if you remember to:

  • Temper the urge to speak with the discipline to listen
  • Substitute the impulse to teach with a passion to learn
  • Hear what is said and listen for what is meant
  • Marry your certainties with others’ possibilities
  • Reserve judgment until you can claim understanding

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