In this first edition of Next Page, Vice Provost Jack Ryan shares with us his reading habits, book recommendations, and which returning television show will likely soak up a solid eight hours of his reading time.
What are you reading now (or have read recently)
that you would recommend? Why?
Recently I read Loon Lake, E.L. Doctorow’s experimental proletarian novel. Set in the 1930s, this historical fiction examines how loaded the promise and cost of the American Dream truly is. The novel includes shifts in chronology and point-of-view, poems and short biographies, blending objective reporting within the fictional narrative, making Loon Lake a difficult novel to follow. As he did in The Book of Daniel, Doctorow reveals his skepticism about organized political activity and the accuracy of historical records; however, Loon Lake lacks Daniel’s guiding voice. I read the novel while vacationing on Loon Lake in the Adirondack Mountains, which seemed appropriate.
I am an avid magazine reader, and I would recommend “Throw Like A Girl,” Ben McGrath’s article [The New Yorker, Aug. 12, 2013] about the New York/New Jersey Comets, a new professional women’s softball team in the first year of operation. I had no idea the National Professional Fastpitch League existed. Even in a four-team league, the Comets are far from being a dominant team. They face Olympic caliber pitching and balls rocketing off of non-restricted bats. The players discover the difference between college softball and professional softball.
What book, article, or blog have you recently recommended to a student?
For students interested in film, I have recommended Jonathan Rosenbaum’s film blog. He’s a talented reviewer with vast cinematic knowledge. And Richard Brody at The New Yorker on-line, who also does a good job analyzing film.
The most recent book I recommended was The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson; in fact, I purchased it as a gift for a student working on her honors thesis with me.
What is your favorite book to give as a gift?
That depends on who is receiving the gift. It could be a cookbook, a collection of essays, or a work of fiction. I don’t have a single book that I give to people, because I would be imposing my taste (or lack thereof) on someone else. For instance, I really enjoy reading Carl Hiassen, and have given his books as gifts to my children and some friends. However, there are many fine people who would be offended by Hiassen’s comic sensibility. I did purchase multiple copies of the late James J. Farrell’s The Nature of College: How a New Understanding of Campus Life Can Change the World for the Class of 2017 Lincoln Scholars. We’ll have to wait to see what they think about the book.
How do you keep track of what you have already read, are reading currently, or want to read in the future?
Like most people, I have stacks of books, magazines, and articles that need to be read. It’s just a matter of finding the time to read in peace. Now that Breaking Bad is back on television, I have just lost eight hours of reading time.
What book or article has inspired you to take action?
The Monkey Wrench Gang by Edward Abbey. I really can’t talk about the action it spurred.
Who is your favorite writer of all time?
All time? Another difficult question. Right now it’s Jim Harrison, the prolific novelist, poet, journalist, screenwriter, and essayist. Harrison’s work is marked by place and sensual habits he has cultivated during his decades of sustained success.
Do you have a favorite book or literary character from your childhood?
Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is the childhood book that leaps to mind, primarily because of Ms. Fenstermaker, the teacher who took me through the book. The primary stories that stay with me from childhood, though, are the small tales presented on The Twilight Zone. Like Rod Serling, I grew up in Binghamton, New York, and watching The Twilight Zone for images of Binghamton, such as the Carousel in Recreation Park, the Greyhound Bus Station, or the Carnegie Library, still intrigues me.
What are you planning to read next?
A Moment in the Sun, John Sayles’s vast historical novel, which is almost 1,000 pages long, and begins in 1897, the year of the Klondike gold rush, and ends in 1903, the year after the Philippine-American War ended. Sayles has directed eighteen feature films, including Amigo, which is based on a portion of this novel, and he is the author of three other novels, Pride of the Bimbos, Union Dues, and Los Gusanos.