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Great books, better discussions

Discussion group looks at books and lifes bigger questions


Dick Oman loves to dig into a good book. But what he loves even more is reading and discussing a “great” book.

Oman is leading a new group at the Wilsonville Public Library called Great Books, which meets once a month to discuss one of history’s great works and how it applies to current life.

According to Oman, the program is based off of the Great Books Foundation, which originated in the mid-1900s. A group of teachers out of Chicago didn’t want the great masterpieces falling to the wayside. So they collaborated to create a list of 102 of the greatest authors of all time. Working with Encyclopedia Britannica, the teachers put together a reading list and discussion materials.

To make the list, an author must have contemporary significance. This means the book can be read time and again with benefit, and is relevant to the underlying issues that have been around since the beginning of humankind.

Oman, 66, became involved with the Great Books Foundation after moving to Salem a few years ago. His mother, who lives in St. Paul, Minn., had participated in a group and told him how much fun it was.

“I said, ‘I guess I’ll give it a shot,’” Oman said.

For five years, he led a Great Books group out of the Salem senior center and got hooked.

“It was a lot of fun. Some of these writers are very prolific,” he said. “These are the founders of Western tradition.”

The selected books are some of the heavy hitters that remain relevant today, such as Plato’s “Republic” and Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Subjects in the books often examine society’s bigger questions, such as life and death.

“It’s important to get together and discuss these works because it’s a conversation that has been going on for 2,500 years,” Oman said. “That’s a long discussion.”

Oman’s favorite so far is Plato’s “The Last Days of Socrates.” The book recounts the trial and death of classical Greek Athenian philosopher Socrates in 399 BC.

“It’s not afraid to approach basic problems that come up in people’s lives, like life and death. (It has) a lot of the stuff you can relate to the world today,” Oman said.

Oman said reading the philosophical books helps establish critical thinking that can be used in all facets of life — not to be critical of people and things, but to think differently.by: SUBMITTED - The book for September is 'Heart of Darkness' by Joseph Conrad.

“You look deeper and find out what’s really the basis for understanding a situation,” he said.

Oman said the group’s discussion part, which takes place after all participants have read each book, is the most important aspect. It is there people can collectively share inquiries without butting heads. Each reader takes on his or her own interpretation of what the author was trying to convey.

“It’s really interesting,” he said.

Though not every book is an easy read, Oman said, they are all worth digging into. A particularly tough one for him was by German philosopher Immanuel Kant, though he added that “sometimes the work can actually pay off later down the road.”

Oman said he is sometimes struck by a theme or an idea of a book while just going about his daily routine.

“It forms a much deeper understanding of what we are about,” he said.

Though it is not necessary, it is sometimes recommended to read a book twice, first to get what the author is saying and again to form questions.

The Great Books group meets from 4-6 p.m. on the third Wednesday of each month at the library.

The next meeting is Sept. 18, and the book is “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad. The book, which was adapted in 1979 by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola as “Apocalypse Now,” follows the journey of the narrator up the Congo River in Africa.

The library is located at 8200 SW Wilsonville Road. For information, contact Adult Services Librarian Greg Martin at 503-682-2744 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . For more information about the Great Books Foundation, visit greatbooks.org.



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