Summer Parent Reading Group 2018

In order that we might continue modeling the kind of reading that is leisure rather than work, the parent reading group will continue meeting over the summer break. If we are very fortunate, and even a little bit persuasive, we will add to our numbers those who have not yet had the good fortune of passing a few hours in the company of interested and interesting people.

Last summer our group chose W.H. Auden’s The Age of Anxiety to read together. It proved a challenge for even the most experienced, and this year we have chosen to exchange density for duration. It was for this, and a number of other considerations, that Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove was chosen as our summer reading.

There will doubtlessly be some who claim that a book about a cattle drive from Texas to Montana has nothing to say about the unique educational and pedagogical project underway at Ridgeview. Why are we not reading the European masters? Why not Goethe’s Faust or something from Dostoevsky if we must absolutely do something long? Is there not something that has more to say about the human experience, and something more formidable and recognizable that will make us sound smarter among the right sort of people?

Probably. Though, it should be mentioned that we have spent the past year reading many challenging pieces and discussing some very big ideas that confront not only our students, but ourselves as students. We have brought greater clarity to what it means to be a student, if not exclusively of Ridgeview, then certainly of a self-examined life. We are ready for something, even if only marginally, a little lighter as we anticipate a rejuvenating summer. Moreover, it is not as though McMurtry does not explore some of the more enduring themes of humanity. He, like every great artist, does, and Lonesome Dove’s reputation is well earned and richly deserved. It is also not unconcerned with what it means to have an education, and as the author makes this clear with his character Augustus. Without giving too much away, McMurtry writes of Augustus,

“I did know my letters once,” he said. He was fairly drunk and feeling melancholy about all the sinking he had done in the world. Throughout the rough years the Greek alphabet had leaked out of his mind a letter at a time – in fact, the candle of knowledge he had set out with had burned down to a sorry stub.”

At this point in the novel, Augustus is trying to make out a Latin motto on a sign for the Hat Creek Cattle Company: Uva uvam vivendo varia fit. The Latin, which Augustus is trying to persuade his friend he once knew, appears to be a corruption from a line in Juvenal’s Second Satire. Juvenal actually wrote, “uvaque conspecta livorem ducit ab uva,” which at least one poet has translated as, “Just as a grape becomes tainted by touching another grape.” In this part of the satire, Juvenal is challenging the hypocrisy of aristocrats, and pathetically, when Augustus cannot translate the line he concludes to his friend that, “It just says itself.”

We encounter McMurtry referring to Augustus as an Epicurean and Captain Call as a Stoic in the preface, and we see education later described as a kind of conversation. Heartbreakingly, we meet Clara who thinks highly enough of education that she saves away for her sons and reads Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe to them. We can find in this novel people in hardened circumstances who, even if they must, do not want to find that all that is contained within an individual life amounts to little more than vague incomprehensibility. Here, then, is another small contribution for those who, in their leisure, aspire not only for the human world to be more knowable, but for it to be more meaningful. That they should undertake this is not only profitable to them, but good for the children in their care who are the inheritors of a world that says much more than just itself.

Finally, given Ridgeview’s place in the modern West, and for what that part of our culture represents for ourselves and our children, it is fitting that we should read and be reminded of it. McMurtry opens his novel with the following epigraph from the critic T.K. Whipple: “All America lies at the end of the wilderness road, and our past is not a dead past, but still lives in us. Our forefathers had civilization inside themselves, the wild outside. We live in the civilization they created, but within us the wilderness still lingers. What they dreamed, we live, and what they lived, we dream.”

We will be using Larry McMurtry’s twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Lonesome Dove (ISBN:978-1-4391-9526-0) and proceeding according to the following meeting schedule. We plan for all meetings to begin at 6:00pm. If you are interested in hosting one of these meetings, please let me know at your earliest convenience. I look forward to reading with you all and I will send out an e-mail to everyone wishing to participate to confirm the dates and locations of each of these meetings.

8 June – Chapters 1-13
22 June – Chapters 14-37
6 July – Chapters 38-56
20 July – Chapters 57-75
9 August – Chapters 76-92
30 August – Chapters 93-10

Kind regards,

D. Anderson

Mr. Anderson