Being a Book



Being a Book


Typescript of a lecture delivered on February 23, 2024, by Daniel Harrell as part of the Formal Lecture Series.

Mr. Harrell describes his lecture: "When the so-called New Program was established at St. John’s College in 1937, conversation was to play no essential role—at least if you believe the first statement of the program, written by Scott Buchanan. Where you would expect the word 'conversation' you find 'instruction' instead, as in this brief description of the seminar:

Meetings of seminar groups will occur twice a week with any additional meetings that special circumstances or difficulties may indicate. There will be two instructors in charge, and the instruction will make use of a wide range of devices from explication de texte to analysis of intellectual content and the dialectical treatment of critical opinion.

When I read this description, I like to think that the importance of conversation to our endeavor emerged over time: a matter of discovery rather than dictate.

Has something similar happened with the importance of books to our endeavor? We have always stated this importance in terms of what makes certain books great; but what makes them books, I have come to think, is even more central to our experience of reading them, discussing them, and learning from them. Perhaps there is no way to dictate by 'great' how we come to find ourselves in these books, just as there was no way to dictate by 'instruction' how we came to find ourselves in a conversation about these books.

But what makes books books? What does it mean to be a book? This is the question of my lecture. And my hope—despite the St. John’s frame I use here—is that the lecture will be of interest to any reader of books, even if it fails, by my lights, to make full sense of a book."



Annapolis, MD




A signed permission form has been received stating, "I hereby grant St. John's College permission to: Make an audio recording of my lecture, and retain copies for circulation and archival preservation in the St. John's College Greenfield Library. Make an audio recording of my lecture available online. Make a typescript copy of my lecture available for circulation and archival preservation in the St. John's College Greenfield Library. Make a copy of my typescript available online."









Original Format


Page numeration

15 pages