Noble Great Books discussion is 68 years in the making

On Oct. 8, 1948, a group met at the East Cleveland Public Library to discuss the Declaration of Independence as a literary work. That was the beginning of what is now a 68-year-old tradition called the Noble Great Books Discussion, which moved to the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library’s Noble Neighborhood branch in 1971.

Participants have read Plato, Shakespeare, Milton and Fitzgerald—authors with indisputable longevity. They have also read contemporary plays, landmark Supreme Court decisions, and 20th-century authors such as Eudora Welty and Naguib Mahfouz.

Renee Paolino, current group leader, describes Great Books as “books that live on because what they tell us is ever relevant to life’s questions, problems and experiences.”

Last month’s discussion of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair was reminiscent of English classes at a small liberal arts college. Twelve people sat around a table, making comments that were sometimes quiet and thoughtful, at other times heated, controversial or just flat-out funny. It was inherently satisfying to ask questions and probe for understanding, or even just quietly observe this collaborative process.

Participants decided that Vanity Fair, subtitled A Novel without a Hero, was meant to show that no one is totally good and no one is totally evil—a concept as real and relevant today as it was during the Regency-era setting of the book.

Apart from being about books with staying power, the Noble Great Books Discussion is a practice of longevity itself. Beyond its 68 years in existence, it is part of a larger tradition of discussing great literature, which came about after World War I with Mortimer Adler, who launched 15 adult education Great Book discussion groups in New York City. In 1930, Great Books seminars were introduced at the University of Chicago, and the idea spread from there.

The next Noble Great Books Discussion will be about Jonathan Swift’s 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels. The discussion will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the Noble Neighborhood library, 2800 Noble Road in Cleveland Heights.

Julia Murphy

Julia Murphy is the marketing assistant for the Cleveland Heights-University Heights Public Library.

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Volume 6, Issue 12, Posted 1:19 PM, 10.28.2013