Discussion Groups

The Library is home to a growing list of reading and discussion groups organized by members to address various interests. Groups usually meet in the twelfth story lecture hall. Because they are based on conversation and active participation, enrollment in groups may be limited. Reservations are required. Groups form throughout the year. Check back regularly for information on new groups.

2017 Mercantile Library discussion groups are supported by the Camden Foundation 

First Wednesday Book Discussions

visit HERE

Kamholtz Course 2017: This Group is FULL

Fridays: April 7, 21, May 5, 19, and June 2. 12:30 to 2 pm.

The Kamholtz course is an institution within the institution of The Mercantile Library. Mercantile members have been enjoying University of Cincinnati English professor Jonathan Kamholtz’s well-researched and animated lectures for over 30 years.

Scientific Questions and Scientific Quests

This year, our topic is Scientific Questions and Scientific Quests. We’ll be reading five novels about scientific heroism and scientific discoveries with consequences intended and otherwise. These are books that chronicle the scientist’s need for obsessiveness and vision, for perseverance and imagination. What sort of responsibilities does the scientist have, and what sort of person might the scientist be? Each of our books thinks about what the world might look like to the understanding of experimenters, explorers, thinkers, and measurers. And each suggests some different ideas about what science itself is and can do. I don’t promise that I can vouch for or explain all the science in our five books, but all of them make for terrific reading.

April 7: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein. This is where the modern novel about science begins. With its roots in romantic idealism and gothic horror, the book traces Victor Frankenstein’s embrace of science but rejection of the outcome of his experimentation. Frankenstein is a book about what it means to be haunted by your own work, literally.

April 21: Sinclair Lewis, Arrowsmith. The classic American novel for which Lewis was awarded a Pulitzer Prize which he then refused to accept. Arrowsmith follows the life and career of a small town Midwestern doctor as medicine becomes increasingly science-driven. Though Arrowsmith will travel to the Caribbean to bring modern knowledge to bear on an outbreak of the plague, he will still maintain that he is “in no degree a hero.” What sort of man must a scientist be?

May 5:  Daniel Kehlmann, Measuring the World. A book about two men and two minds, mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, with two very different ways of measuring—and knowing—the world. Humboldt, a tireless explorer, measures the world he sees as he treks through Europe, the jungles of South America, and even the United States in its early decades. Gauss is a precocious theoretical mathematician for whom only numbers make sense. As Europe slides from the Napoleonic years to the Revolutions of 1848 and their aftermath, the two men meet to discover how much—and how little—they have in common.

May 19:  Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams. Time needs to be reconceived, and Einstein is the man to do it—in his subconscious. This remarkable book consists of thirty short dreams Einstein might have had, considering what our increasingly complicated understandings of time can do for—and to—us. What if time ends? What would happen to the narrative of our lives if time became sticky, or if it came to a stop?

June 2: Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things. We follow the fictional Alma Whittaker, born in 1800 as daughter of a botanical pirate, who is determined to understand plants as a modern scientist would. In a world where looks and grace are everything, Alma lacks both, and has to deal with the extraordinary solitude that might come with a life of science. She enters into a complex relationship with a dreamy artist, Ambrose, and eventually both will encounter their destinies in far-off Tahiti. And as we look at the conflict between the worlds and claims of science and spirit, we find ourselves back in the issues raised by Frankenstein all over again.


Jonathan Kamholtz holds a Ph.D. from Yale University and is an Associate Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Cincinnati.
Series price: $50 members/$55 nonmembers
Individual sessions: $15 members/$20 nonmembers
Reservations required: 513.621.0717 or email.


One of the Library’s longest-running discussion groups—the Canon Club—recently accomplished the laudable task of reading Shakespeare’s complete dramatic works. Joining each discussion are members of The Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.

Led by Dr. William McKim, retired Emeritus NKU Professor, and Brian Isaac Phillips, CSC’s Producing Artistic Director

Wednesdays 6 to 7:30 pm (Except where noted)

October 19 Sonnets
November 30 Much Ado About Nothing
February 1 Henry VI and Richard III
February 15 Richard III preview at CSC (6:15)
May 10 The Tempest

Series price: $55 members/$65 nonmembers
Reservations requested: 513.621.0717 or reservations@mercantilelibrary.com 



The Walnut Street Poetry Society was founded in 2004 and is devoted to the reading and study of poetry. WSPS meets monthly (except July and August) at noon. Sessions are moderated by Dr. Norman Finkelstein, poet and professor of English at Xavier University, as well as group members.

WSPS 2017: Poetry and Politics 

Noon — 1:00 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month. The Society does not meet in July or August.

Sold as annual subscription only: $30 members/$40 nonmembers

Registration is closed.

Literary Journeys 2017: A Trip to the Overlook

Moderated by Tony Covatta

Thursdays 6 — 7:30 pm: February 16; March 16; April 27; and May 18

Series price: $30 members/$40 non-members

Sold as Series only. This group is SOLD OUT.
513.621.0717 or reservations@mercantilelibrary.com

In its 12th season, Literary Journeys is our discussion series with an international theme, led by Anthony Covatta. Covatta taught English at Columbia University and Skidmore College. He has focused his interest in the literature of foreign countries ever since he started practicing law in Cincinnati in 1979. He is an attorney at Frost Brown Todd.

The four disparate novels for this year are Elizabeth Taylor, A View of the Harbour (England); Magda Szabo, The Door (Hungary); Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (India); and James Salter, All That Is (USA).

February 16 Elizabeth Taylor, A View of the Harbour (1947)

March 16  Magda Szabo, The Door (1987)

April 27 Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things (1998)

May 18 James Salter, All That Is (2013)