As part of the Carolina Public Humanities’ virtual Great Books Reading Groups, UNC professors volunteer to lead weekly discussions with community members on a diverse range of books.
The program started in 2015 and usually meets face-to-face at Flyleaf Books, but went virtual in the fall due to COVID-19.
CPH events coordinator Vicki Breeden said the club is made up of retired or mostly retired professionals invested in lifelong learning.
“Some of them are people who were English majors in college and miss it and love to go back,” Breeden said. “And some of them — especially those like the computer programmers who had more of a science background and never really did that — now they're at a time in their life where they want to read books and discuss them with people and that’s a new thing.”
Breeden said she tries to cover a little bit of everything in her choice of books.
“We try to bring books from a range of genres and time periods, with the idea that we always want to try to find some work that is important and we feel like people should be aware of or should read,” she said.
The discussions typically cover everything from the background of the author to the structures and themes found in the book. Breeden said most books have a two-week session, with around four hours of discussion total.
Longtime book club member Roger Goldstein said part of what makes the discussions so engaging is the different insights people have as a result of their diverse backgrounds. He said even books he doesn’t want to read become worth it once the discussions begin.
“It gives you a different perspective,” Goldstein said. “And all of a sudden you think, 'You know, that was worth reading,' because of the discussion.”
The book discussions are led by University professors from a wide range of departments. Professors often volunteer a book they want to discuss or hear about a book the group is reading, and volunteer to lead the discussion.
“Our programs are all about connecting UNC faculty with the general public and promoting this sort of public discourse,” Breeden said.
Goldstein said the passion and interest the professors show for their topics make the program truly special.
“They will say how delightful it is to work with a group that is enthusiastic and does the reading and so forth,” Goldstein said. “We've said it's great for us too, and the best thing about it is we don't have any papers.”
Goldstein said the discussion for Gabriel García Márquez’s "One Hundred Years of Solitude" in 2017 really stuck with him due to how engaging professor Juan Carlos González Espitia was.
“It was raining and there was a point in this work that talked about rain,” Goldstein said. “And he said, 'Come on, let's go.' And we all went outside and we're standing there in the rain, and it really just was wonderful because it made a point about the way the author had portrayed a particular scene.”
The participants return the same passion for learning. Paul Connuck, a member of the book club and the Carolina Public Humanities advisory board, said there are no slackers in the group. He said they all bond over their shared interest in the material.
“The social element is very important, but it's how you socialize that's also important, in the sense that the point of connection is your intellectual curiosity,” Connuck said.
He said since everyone is retired or semi-retired, the book club provides them a way to meet people and continue with the best parts of learning.
“This is the kind of institution that provides fulfillment that you look to when you no longer have to do the daily grind to make a living,” Connuck said. “You can really pursue the things that you love in life. And this is really something that's special in that respect.”
Participants can sign up CPH's website or over the phone. The groups are limited to 14 participants and have a fee for each session.
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