Great books, light course work in class

The first-known written story was in cuneiform on 12 stone tablets from some 4,000 years ago.

Students in the new Great Books class at Western Nevada Community College will learn about Gilgamesh and his search for immortality through the picture writing in Professor John Newell's fall class.

Great Books is the first literature class of its kind at the Carson City community college campus, not so much for its topic as for its format.

"Except for reading, there will be no homework," Newell said. "It's going to be a quasi-book-club-like class where students will be able to read and then come in for discussion, much like a book club, without the papers or without having to answer a lot of questions before coming in."

The one difference between a book club and the class will be that Newell will provide historical and cultural context for the four works read during the semester.

The other three works are "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey," both by Homer; and the "Aeneid" by Virgil.

"When discussing the great books, (this) is a natural place to start because some of these are the earliest works of literature," Newell said.

Krista Benjamin, a Carson City resident and freelance writer, plans to take the class. In fact, the idea for a class of great books started with her.

"I was taking a class from Marilee Swirczek (an English professor at WNCC)," Benjamin said. "It was a writing class. She would often refer to stories and classical works that I hadn't read, and I thought it would be nice to read some of those books in a semester format with help."

So she asked Swirczek if there was such a class.

"She said 'no,' but said that other people had asked her about a class over the years," Benjamin said.

Swirczek invited her out for a cup of coffee, and their ideas swirled. Swirczek mentioned the class to Newell, and he took the job.

"One of the things we want to do is have this class not just appeal to the traditional college student," Newell said.

It's also for students seeking continuing education and writers, lovers of literature and professionals.

"That makes it exciting because I will have a wide range of life experiences in my students who will provide interesting experiences and interesting discussions," he said.

While reading epics means getting involved in lengthy and intense texts, only Gilgamesh will be read in full. Newell will select excerpts from the others.

"I think reading is going to be enough homework as it is because it's not going to be easy reading," Benjamin said.

Students will also discuss the influences the works have on modern literature. If the class is successful, a follow-up could be offered in the spring.

"At present, the topic (for that class) is unknown," Newell said. "One of the things I would like to is do is have a survey of the students and find out what other types of books they would be interested in reading."

n Contact reporter Maggie O'Neill at or 881-1219.

If you go

What: "Special Topics in English: Great Books" Western Nevada Community College class

When: 7-9:45 p.m. Thursdays

Teacher: Adjunct professor John Newell

Costs: $164.25.

Register at:


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