Thursday, March 18, 2010

Great Books Chicago

Day 37 of the "What are you reading, and why?" project.

A bunch of people, all over the United States, and some in Canada, are right now reading these 3 works, for Great Books Chicago, an annual spring event in Chicago:

1) The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Penguin Classics edition)
2) Endgame by Samuel Beckett (published with Act Without Words 1 in a Grove Press edition)

3) Sorrow-Acre by Isak Dinesen (pen name of Karen Blixen, the Out of Africa woman; published within Introduction to Great Books 2, Second Series, by the Great Books Foundation)
The people reading these works will gather in Chicago April 30-May 2 to discuss them, "shared inquiry" style, and attend various cultural events in the city, including the Steppenwolf production of Endgame, and I will be with them! Leading 2 of the discussions. Yay!!

I love this annual gathering in spring. It actually started before I left Chicago, during my last spring of teaching at DePaul, but I was too busy teaching and preparing to move to attend, alas. Instead, I have been able to come back as a discussion leader/participant since 2005 (I think?), having wonderful conversations with lovely people and seeing all kinds of things in the city, including the botanical gardens, theatre and ballet, and special programs at the Art Institute.

This year we are going to the Museum of Science and Industry, one of my favorite museums ever! Gadgets! Science! And, as the Great Books Chicago info & registration page reminds us, this museum was the Palace of Fine Arts in the World Colombian Exposition of 1893.

That page also reminds us that we can learn more about that world's fair, and the icky murders going on at the same time, in the book The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson, also mentioned earlier in this "What are you reading?" project in this blog!

Previous years have taken readers on tours of the architecture of Chicago, the city's music, all sorts of wonderful adventures. I look forward to this year's adventure and its theme, "Difficult Gifts." Sigh....

When you sign up, the books and all tickets to event are covered by the fee; hotel & food are extra. If you are a reader who loves to talk about books with other book lovers, this is a marvelous spring-in-Chicago (a flowery place!) thing to do!


Kathleen said...

Hmmm, I can add an image,but I can't get the spacing right. Sigh....

Julie Kistler said...

I tried this once and it seems to have disappeared, so I shall try again!

(You may want to go to your dashboard and choose the "center" option for your image, btw. I think that will help your spacing issue with this particular post.)

On the issue of the Columbian Exposition, I wanted to note that I wrote a time travel romance called "Scandal" for Harlequin's Blaze line wherein a women's history scholar in, oh, 2005 or so (Marshall Field's was still there) fell backwards to 1893 to find out what happened to the (scandalous) subject of her dissertation, a sculptor who'd placed an erotic marble arch in the Women's Building at the Exposition.

Until I started doing research for the book, I had no idea so many female sculptors were commissioned to work at the Exposition or that female nudity in art was a-okay at that time, as long as the female depicted represented some concept, like The Spirit of Columbia or Truth or Beauty or something. Real naked women were a no-no, and I recall a story about a black woman who sculpted a naked sculpture of Cleopatra, and they sent her and her sculpture down the street to a tacky bar.

To create a bona fide (fictional) scandal, I upped the ante and came up with the erotic marble arch, that not only showed naked people, but showed them as Greek gods and goddesses doing what Greek gods and goddesses are so frequently depicted doing with various mortals in various places and in various disguises.

I think anyone who reads the book will figure out pretty quickly that I was more into the history than the sexy bits, however. I do love the Columbian Exposition, and I thought it was cool to be able to see the actual L car (the first L car) that ferried people from the Loop to the Exposition. It's at the Chicago Historical Museum and is well worth a look if you're Exposition-nutty like I am!

Kathleen said...

I read this book of yours, Julie! It was great fun, I learned a lot, and it tied right in with what I had read in the Larson book!

Julie Kistler said...

So what do you think they mean by "Difficult Gifts"? I read "The Scarlet Letter" when I was in high school and I think I remember it fairly well, plus I know "End Game." What are the blessings in those pieces? I suppose the baby in "The Scarlet Letter" is a gift or blessing of some kind, but what in the world do they mean in "End Game"? I don't know the Isak Dinesen story at all, so I'm clueless on that one.

The "Difficult Gifts" thing strikes me as an uneasy attempt to make a connection. Just me?

Kathleen said...

Ah, you are in the spirit of "shared inquiry" now! The point of the discussion is not to go in with the answers, but to go in with the questions!

The most basic and naive questions are the best!

You see a possible "diffcult gift" in the child, the Pearl of great price, so to speak. I might see the difficult gift as her mother's talents--at sewing, at love, at attracting the attention of a man less courageous than she is, etc. Her ability to live out her life at the fringe...

But, for that discussion, I'll be the one asking the questions, not answering them!!