Tuesday, January 02, 2007

My Holiday Reading List

By President Michael Cooper-White

Here’s hoping that for you and yours Christmas 2006 brought a goodly measure of joy, and that this new year of 2007 begins with hope and energy for our common calling.

The advent of Amazon .com and its “wish list” posting possibility results in a far higher percentage of Christmas gifts hitting my strike zone. This year’s list was heavily weighted with books, the sum total of which amount to several pounds and two or three thousand pages. A good ten-day stretch of travel and at-home leisure provided ample hours to make my way through a heavy dose of the new pile. In this first P.O. column of 2007, I share a few highlights and recommendations for your own reading.

“Ten Poems to Change Your Life” (2001 by Roger Housden) may be a bit of an exaggeration, but this gift book from our daughter’s California godparents brought delight. One entry, by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, reminded me of viewing his home on the rocky coastlands near El Tabo where, while on internship, I welcomed in the new year of 1975. In “Ode to My Socks” Neruda celebrates the simple joys of life, and how “what is good is doubly good when it’s a matter of two woolen socks in winter.”

In the same vein of reverie for past times that are unrecoverable, and lost loved ones who live on in memory alone, Will Weaver’s “Sweet Land” is both a charming collection of short stories set in Minnesota, as well as a current highly acclaimed big screen movie. Also by this Bemidji State University professor, “The Barns of Minnesota” captures both in print and photograph so many memories of the countless hours spent in father Bennie’s barn on our farmstead, of which now no trace is visible to any but the sharpest eyes.

Always good for a quick read are the novels of Nicolas Sparks, best known for “Message in a Bottle,” “The Notebook” or “A Walk to Remember.” In his most recent book, “Three Weeks with My Brother,” Sparks shifts from fiction to autobiography, describing both an around-the-world trip with his sibling, and the pain and poignancy of their childhood and young adult years that involved burying both parents and a sister at young ages. In a burst of true confession, I herewith acknowledge that this book was part of my Christmas gift to my own brother Dave. Late at night and early in the mornings I slipped it from under the Christmas tree and read it ahead of its recipient—may he forgive me!

The heavier and more serious Christmas reading took me into two books on most bestsellers’ lists: Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial,” and Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat.” Volume III of his trilogy on Bush at War, “State of Denial” is a kind of postmortem on a presidency still breathing and kicking, even if barely by some assessments. And “flat” surely does not describe the writing style of Friedman, whose 600-pager finally explained for me why phone calls to United Airlines or many other purveyors of goods and services seem to connect with call centers in foreign lands (they do, in fact!) Among his many claims and calls, Friedman’s guide to the new flat world sounds a strong plea for more attention to education that embraces multicultural realities and the prospect of an unparalleled global future. These are themes we’ve already begun discussing in earnest as we engage in planning for the future of education at Gettysburg.

While there were other books and wider browsing over the holidays just past, let this suffice for a whirlwind tour based on one reader’s Christmas wish list. I’d like to hear what you have been learning in your own readings of late.