Art Works Blog

What's On Your Bookshelf, Part Two?

Washington, DC

Chicago Public Library poster, project of Illinios WPA, from Library of Congress archives

Here's part two of our between-the-lines look at what our colleagues are reading this summer.

Sunil Iyengar, Director, Office of Research and Analysis

I?ve just read Christopher Hitchens? memoir, Hitch-22. Alone among political writers, Hitchens has the literary instinct, devoting at least as much attention to style as to content. But style for ?The Hitch? is not an ornament or accessory. It?s a protest against the numb, insensate writing that ruins so much of today?s political discourse. Style, along with his pitch-perfect recall of verse quotations and historical anecdotes, is what marks his distance from the totalitarian regimes he so despises. Whether or not you agree with him on any given point, it is the ?literary instinct?---and not the contrarian spirit---that is our greatest proof against the encroaching dark of fear and self-delusion.

Liz Stark, Public Affairs Specialist

I used part of my summer vacation to re-read Suzanne Collins? The Hunger Games in anticipation of the release of her new book, Mockingjay, at the end of the summer. There are some amazing books being published these days in the Young Adult genre and Collins? books are some of my favorites.

Don Ball, Assistant Public Affairs Director---Publications

Death in Midsummer and Other Stories by Yukio Mishima, because, well, the title story takes place in midsummer. And there?s death. Several deaths, actually. At the beach. What could be more summery  than that? I haven?t read Mishima in probably 20 years, so I was interested to see if I still found him as fascinating as when I was in my 20s. And I do: his characters are intricate and surprising, and his writing lyrical without being syrupy. And he has a really good command of plot (which not all authors do). As he was a bit of a fascist, I?m following it up with Roberto Bolaño?s Nazi Literature in the Americas

Jason Schupbach, Director of Design

Jose Saramago's Death with Interruptions. Saramago is one of my favorite writers, and this is his last book before his unfortunate passing. Never has someone had such disdain for punctuation. Except maybe Joyce, or Woolf.  Two of my other favorites.

 Katja von Shcuttenbach, Jazz Specialist

Well, for one, I have my summer vacation still ahead of me and one of my best friends, Patti Bonn, not only talked with such passion about Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (?How we can learn to fulfill our potential?) by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. but she actually bought the book for me. How could I not put the book atop my reading list? This paperback is neither a self help book nor a psychological treatise and an easy read. The author?s basic premise is that there are two basic mindsets and combinations thereof: the ?fixed mindset? and the ?growth mindset.? Being surrounded by creative people---artists in different fields and at all levels of experience---I am very much interested in professional and creative growth. I have been pondering why some of them appear absolutely undeterred by any obstacles in their paths. Those blessed individuals who thrive on creating, expanding their horizons---and don?t seem to mind failures along the way---while I get discouraged more easily and, on occasion, drop initially promising projects altogether. Dweck is examining what holds individuals back from reaching their full potentials and traces the issue back to ?fixed mindsets,? the belief that intelligence and ability are static rather than assets that can be stretched, developed, and grown.

What does that mean for me, a long-standing novice on the piano (unable to develop a daily practice regimen) and Italian speaker at the permanent beginner level? It means that failure is not an obstacle to success---and most definitely not the end of the road---but, on the contrary, an opportunity to do better, to go back to the drawing board and try again, try differently maybe, but try again because the things in life worth doing don?t necessarily come easy. Effort and sweat can lead to better results than ?lazy talent.? So grow your mindset and actually find joy in playing the same bar, of the same piece of music, over and over again until you got it just right; paint over your canvas until you like what you see; erase the one line in your poem that you don?t like---even if the paper wears thin---but don?t give up. And that?s what I will do on my summer vacation: work on my book project. No, I have never written a book before but I am more determined than ever: with the right mindset I can finish it!   

Ralph Remington, Director of Theater and Musical Theater

I read Command Performance: An Actress in the Theater of Politics by Jane Alexander. I wanted to get a historical perspective of the Arts Endowment by a former Chair. I also read Leaving Town Alive by John Frohmnmayer---same reason. I read a Hallie Flanagan bio by Joanne Bentley because I was fascinated and wanted to learn more about how the arts, and theater in particular, were used as a tool for economic stimulus during the Roosevelt administration and the WPA. I'm currently reading The Promise by Jonathan Alter. I want to learn an insider perspective about President Obama's first year on the job. I'm also currently reading My Times In Black and White: Race and Power at the New York Times by the late Gerald M. Boyd. On deck is The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick and The Art of the Turnaround: Creating and Maintaining Healthy Arts organizations by Michael Kaiser.

Jon Peede, Director of Literature

I am just finishing Allegra Goodman?s new novel, The Cookbook Collector, which follows the lives of two sisters---one a Berkeley grad student who works in an antiquarian bookstore and for an environmental organization, the other sister the CEO of a Silicon Valley startup in the time before the dot-com crash. I haven?t thought about day trading and hot IPOs for years, or read such compelling accounts of the dot-com life since Po Bronson?s earlier fiction. The Cookbook Collector?s list of fine wines, books, and food is encyclopedic in scope but never pedantic in delivery. If you like reading Anne Tyler, you?ll probably like Goodman?s work. She will be read from the novel at the National Book Festival in DC this September.

Laska Hurley, Administrative Assistant

Here are my two favorites of the summer---so far. In Queen Esther?s Garden: An Anthology of Judeo-Persian Literature, by Vera Basch Moreen, is a must for anyone who loves great story telling and poetry. The book is inlaid with extensive notes on the text. Reading Queen Esther?s Garden is like working a puzzle backwards, with each piece removed one finds something mysterious and glorious underneath.

The second book is The Reindeer People: Living with Animals and Spirits in Siberia by Piers Vitebsky. How can you turn down a good Siberian reindeer herding story?  At first I wasn?t too sure. There was lots of geography, facts, and figures to digest, but once I got to the chapter "The massacre of Granny?s 2000 reindeer, camp 7"---I was hooked. (Don?t fret Granny gets a new herd.)

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