Reading Odyssey is a non-profit organization created by and for mainstream adults to re-ignite their intellectual curiosity and make accessible the great cultural resources of the world. Founded by two friends in 2005 who wanted to help each other read great but difficult books, the organization has grown dramatically and now reaches more than 250,000 people through its online initiatives on social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter; through its free Internet and phone-based lecture series with great scholars; through its digital newsletter; through it’s national Slow Art program; through its intensive moderated phone-based reading groups of great books.
Much more detailed information is provided below. If you are interested in getting involved, then visit our home page to review upcoming reading groups, lectures and Slow Art activities.
Founder, Chairman Reading Odyssey, Inc.
Reading Odyssey exists because many adults have not read a serious book since college, many have not taken a science of math course since high school, and many are intimidated by museums – and the organization aims to change that. Reading Odyssey makes it possible for people who would not otherwise read a book of philosophy, literature, science of history, attend a lecture by a scholar, spend meaningful time in museums – to break through the intimidation and inaccessibility that makes it difficult for mainstream adults to interact with great culture.
Over the long term, the capacity to embrace critical thinking and evaluate complex subjects, can lead to a richer life experience and a more informed citizenry. By way of example, reading and participating in a moderated discussion of Darwin’s “On the Origin of the Species” illuminates the process of scientific inquiry. Reading and participating in a moderated discussion of Herodotus’s “The Histories” reveals the origin of the craft of historical writing and provides essential context for modern discussions. Having a direct experience with great art can awaken creativity. Listening to live webcasts or downloading podcasts of scholars such as Harvard biologist, E.O. Wilson or NYU Professor Paul Cartledge provides adults with the opportunity to learn from great thinkers that would otherwise not be available.
Three groups of activities contribute to the realization of the organization’s mission. The Reading Groups are the most intimate and intense activities for the organization’s audience. These small moderated conversations are designed for adults most interested in intellectual re-engagement. The second level is the lecture series and the Slow Art movement that serve to (a) fulfill the curiosity of adults either not willing or able to make the commitment to a reading group and (b) to make it easy for adults to to learn about the great cultural resources available to them. Most broadly, the Reading Odyssey creates awareness of its activities and its mainstream and intellectually engaged community through very successful use of social media, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
The Reading Odyssey began with reading groups, which are the core of the organization. Joining a reading group is a pivotal moment for our participants. There have been more than 15 six-month reading groups since 2005 and our plan is to eventually run hundreds of these phone-based groups. We also have an online archive with podcasts from the monthly discussions of each of the 15+ reading groups – which means that we already have a formidable archive of discussions about great books.
Books for which the Reading Odyssey has already developed reading groups include: (some of which have been run multiple times over the years):
• Aeschylus Tragedies
• Aristotle’s Works
• Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
• Herodotus’ The Landmark Herodotus
• Old Testament
• John Allen Paulos’ Innumeracy
• Plato’s Complete Works
• Robert Sapolsky’s Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers
• Thucydides’ The Landmark Thucydides
• Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals
• Peter Bevelin’s Seeking Wisdom
Books that are currently in development include:
• Virgil’s Aeneid
• Livy’s History of Rome
• Ovid’s Metamorphoses
• Julius Ceasar’s The Gallic Wars
• Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote
And a number of other great scientific, literary and historic books.
Once a person joins a reading group, and especially after he or she has read two books with the organization, the Reading Odyssey finds that the person is hooked on the activity of reading great books and thinking about important ideas. Participants typically are surprised by how accessible these kinds of books can be, by how delightful it is to read such books, by how familiar it is, by how much it provokes good dialogue and discussion in the organization’s monthly moderated phone calls. Participants also report that it gets them thinking again about important issues – everything from their personal values to the critical political, scientific and human issues of the day. In other words, the reading group experience enables Reading Odyssey to fulfill, in a highly focused way, its mission of encouraging adults to reengage their curiosity and participate in the two-thousand year human tradition of creative inquiry.
The lecture series are Reading Odyssey’s effort to reach out to adults on a broader basis. They are most often Internet and phone-based, facilitating global access. The lectures are usually hosted by the organization’s founder or a member of the board and given by scholars and authors on a volunteer basis. The lectures are designed to both enhance the discussions in the reading groups and also reach out to a wider number of interested adults. Past lectures have been given by:
• Robert Strassler, editor of the Landmark series of books including The Landmark Herodotus, The Landmark Thucydides, and the recently published Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika.
• Professor Paul Cartledge, Hellenic Parliament Global Distinguished Professor in the History and Theory of Democracy at New York University and A.G. Leventis Chair of Greek Culture at Cambridge University.
• Professor John Marincola, Leon Golden Professor of Classics at Florida State and editor of The Penguin Herodotus.
• Professor E.O. Wilson, Pellegrino University Professor Emeritus at Harvard University and widely recognized as one of the top biologists in the world.
• Pulitzer Prize winning Professor Jonathan Weiner, author of Beak of the Finch and other great books for the general reader.
• Dr. George Amato, Director of the Center for Conservation Genetics at the American Museum of Natural History.
• Novelist and poet Laurie Scheck.
Slow Art is a global movement started by the Reading Odyssey and focused on helping to make museums more accessible to adults. The
concept is simple visit a museum. Look slowly at a few pieces of art – i.e. for 10 minutes or longer. Have lunch to talk about it. Do it the same day as thousands of others around the world.
Local hosts produced our first Slow Art events in October 2009 in the following cities:
• Ashland, Oregon
• Atlanta, Georgia
• Berlin, Germany
• Boston, Massachusetts
• Chicago, Illinois
• Copenhagen, Denmark
• Portland, Oregon
• LA, California
• London, England
• Miami, Florida
• New York, New York
• San Francisco, California
• Palo Alto, California
• Toronto, Canada
• Washington, DC
• Worcester, Massachusetts
Building Community through Social Networking Tools
By using new media to build supportive communities, Reading Odyssey is able to reach mainstream adults in ways that typical public science and humanities education have not. Reading Odyssey runs one of the largest “serious” communities on Facebook – the Darwin Facebook group with 250,000 members. And, we have hosted phone-based lecture series that have attracted thousands of people to the live discussion and many more to the archived recordings on our web site.Our large-scale efforts, – The Facebook and Twitter initiatives, the phone-based lecture series and the organization’s e-mail newsletter that goes out to thousands of reading – aim to do two things.
First, to create learning moments that touch hundreds of thousands – and eventually – millions of people. Second, we hope to build such a welcoming and interesting environment that some of these Facebook member, lecture listeners and newsletter readers take the leap and decide to join one of Reading Odyssey’s intensive three or six-month reading groups.
The Reading Groups will always form the core of the organization. As noted above, the vision for the reading groups is broad and expansive, encompassing journeys through history, literature, and science. Moderated groups on Roman history, Twentieth Century physics, and Cervantes are currently being discussed as part of the programming strategy for the next three years. The fundamental structure of the reading groups, Socratic discussions facilitated by trained moderators, will always be the methodology for exploring science, literature, history, philosophy, etc. For the fall of 2009, Reading Odyssey will host two reading groups on Homer’s Odyssey. In addition, on December 14 the organization will host a live performance of part of the Odyssey, performed by Stanley Lombardo, whose translation Reading Odyssey will be discussing. In 2010 at least two additional reading groups will be added, on the Greek Mathematicians and Xenophon.
Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”
Planned activities include:
• Facebook initiative currently at 250,000 members, with a 1 million member target
• Internet/phone lecture series to start at Harvard on September 16, 2009, with speakers to include Professor Sean Carroll (University of Wisconsin) and Professor E.O. Wilson (Harvard University) among others.
The Reading Odyssey will arrange for free remote phone and web access around at schools and universities around the world.
Battle of Marathon: 2,500 year anniversary Lecture Series
Planned activities include
• Facebook group honoring the anniversary and acting as an archive for all of the lectures and articles written around the world
• Nine part worldwide phone-based lecture series
• A physical conference in September 2011
• Phone and web-based reading groups of Herodotus’s great book “The Histories”
FUNDING OF ACTIVITIES
Reading Odyssey is at present largely an all-volunteer organization and relies on contributions from participants, in-kind donations from companies and universities for facilities and technical assistance, and it is hoped, in the future foundation grants. Reading Odyssey is completely mission driven and focused entirely on engaging mainstream adults in the great ideas of the past and the present.