Well Read in the City of Literature

Kate Minette, Senior Vice President of Operations & Scoring Assessment & Information at Pearson Education, shares her book recommendations with the City of Literature USA.

Education: Minette holds undergraduate degrees in sociology and journalism from Drake University, and a Masters in organizational communication from the University of Northern Iowa.

Community: Minette currently serves on the University of Iowa Tippie College of Business Board of Visitors, the Board of Directors of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce (as secretary), the Cornell College Berry Center Board, Theatre Cedar Rapids Board and Waypoint Services Board (as president elect). She was recognized as a Woman of Influence in 2010 by the Corridor Business Journal.

She requires every leader to read a book (with a business focus, emphasis or application) prior to and in preparation for every annual strategic planning exercise. No one has yet told her they do not just love this idea.

Quote: A wonderful book (in any of today’s various forms) is simply the best gift I can give anyone – a friend, a child, a business associate, one I love, anyone who really wants to learn. Books are education – providing us with knowledge and tools; entertainment – travel, great adventures, tears and terrors; and books dispense wisdom and arouse passions. Reading powers my own heartbeat – informing my work, my life, and my own spiritual journey. – Kate Minette

Minette shares books from two of her own lists of favorites. The first is the reading list she currently uses in her profession. The second “favorites” list is from a class Minette taught at Cornell College several years ago.

Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation – Frans Johansson
Virtuoso Teams: Lessons from Teams that Changed their Worlds – Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns – Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn
Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors – Patrick Lencioni
The Leadership Challenge – James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner
Shackleton’s Way: Leadership Lessons from the Great Antarctic Explorer – Margot Morrell and Stephanie Chapparell
Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value – Bill George
Jack: Straight from the Gut – Jack Welch
Organizational Culture and Leadership – Edgar Schein
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t – Jim Collins
Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions – John Kotter, Holger Rathgerber, Spencer Johnson
Leading Change – John Kotter
Lean Thinking: Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation – James P. Womack and Daniel T. Jones
The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market – Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema
The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable – Patrick Lencioni
The World is Flat: A Brief History Of The Twentieth-First Century – Tom Friedman
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcom Gladwell
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Chuck Peters, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Gazette Company, a media company located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, now known as SourceMedia Group which operates The Gazette newspaper, KCRG-TV9, an ABC Affiliate, local shoppers, numerous online sites and provides commercial printing and direct marketing services.

Professional background: A lawyer by training, Chuck spent a decade in the appliance business, five years as President of Amana Refrigeration and until 1998 as Vice President – Administration of Maytag. Between appliance assignments, he was the CEO of Breakthrough, an Iowa City start-up software and consulting company engaged in developing effective early literacy programs for school systems.

Community: Chuck is the Chair of the Board of Cedar Rapids Bank and Trust, is a director of Swift Communications, Inc. and is active in many civic and charitable organizations, including United Way, the Hall-Perrine Foundation and Junior Achievement.

Family: He and his wife Mary Ann live in New Bo in Cedar Rapids and have an acreage west of Iowa City. They have three sons – Nate, Scott and Nick.

City of Literature (COL): What is it about Iowa that draws writers and other artists to the state?
Peters: I think this region draws people because of the easy access to a wide range of experiences and living situations, amidst an educated, friendly and hard working group of people. It is an area which can be transformative, in many ways.
COL: What surprises you about Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in the USA?
Peters: The most surprising is that it is one of only a few in the world, in a less populated area.
COL: Are there any books that influenced your life and/or profession? In what way did they influence you?
Peters: The books that most influenced my life are:
The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. It was the first long book I learned to read after a severe head injury, and it is about a young man recovering from an illness amidst those who are discussing a new philosophical structure
The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization by Peter Senge. I read this in 1991 when I was attempting a major organizational change at Amana Refrigeration. It introduced me to systems thinking and organizational development.
Absence of Mind: The Dispelling of Inwardness from the Modern Myth of the Self by Marilyn Robinson. A deeply thoughtful and dense review of modern thought and current traps in our thinking.
The books that have most influenced my work are:
Good to Great by Jim Collins. The research based touchstone for those interested in sustainable organizational development.
Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? by Seth Godin. This is a very accessible introduction to the ability for each individual to use their talents in joyful and creative ways, and how we have become stuck in industrial thinking, which is relatively recent in our history.
The New Capitalist Manifesto: Building a Disruptively Better Business by Umair Haque. Haque is an entry point into the discussion on building a constructive, sustainable networked economy.
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David Leshtz, District Representative for Congressman Dave Loebsack shares his book recommendations with the City of Literature USA.

Professional Background: David Leshtz has been a District Representative for Congressman Dave Loebsack since 2007. He previously worked as Supervisor of the Office of Community Education at the University of Iowa’s Center for Disabilities and Development. Dave was a student in the UI Undergraduate Poetry Workshop “a lifetime ago,” taking classes with Jon Anderson, Marvin Bell, Anselm Hollo, and Robin Metz. He holds a master’s degree in Vocational Rehabilitation from the UI College of Education.

Community: Dave has served on many local and state boards and committees, including the Iowa Center for AIDS Education and Research (ICARE), the American Civil Liberties Union of Iowa, and the Iowa Civil Rights Commission (as Chair from 2001-2005). He currently serves on the national board of Americans for Democratic Action, and is co-editor of The Prairie Progressive.

What does reading mean to you? Family lore has it that I ran home from kindergarten one day, waving a Dick and Jane book in my hand, yelling, ‘I can read! I can read!’ Even now, I feel that same wave of enthusiasm when engrossed in reading something good, whether it’s a novel, a New Yorker short story, or a cereal box.

My entire day goes better when I’m wrapped up in a book that I can look forward to reading at night (most recently, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle).

What surprises you about Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in the USA? I brag to friends all over the world — probably to the point of irritation — about Iowa and its wonders, not the least of which is its UNESCO designation. ‘Sophistication with a small-town feel’ is reflected everywhere you look: the beautiful new BookMarks statues popping up all over town, the Iowa caucuses every four years, our status as one of only two states in the US with legalized same-sex marriage and without capitol punishment, and a highly-evolved network of Dairy Queens.

Are there any books that influenced your life and/or profession? F. Scott Fitzgerald, George Orwell, and Norman Mailer were influences when I was young; then Alice Munroe and Mary Oliver; and always, Bob Dylan.

Some of my favorite Iowa writers: Jo Ann Beard, Bob Ernst, Rebecca Gilman, Ransom Jeffery, James Alan McPherson, Larry Baker….and the list goes on….

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Ralph Savarese is the author of Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism & Adoption. Part love story, part political manifesto about “living with conviction in a cynical time,” the memoir traces the development of DJ, a boy written off as profoundly retarded and now, six years later, earning all “A’s” at a regular school.

Professional Background: Ralph Savarese is an Associate Professor of English at Grinnell College.

Community: Ralph frequently speaks about issue of disability, neurodiversity, and adoption—you may have heard him as a guest on IPR programs such as The Exchange and Talk of Iowa. He is known to visit Prairie Lights regularly..

Family: Ralph is married and has a son, one of the first nonspeaking autistics ever to get into a highly selective college (Oberlin).

What does reading mean to you? How does the son of wealthy conservative business people decide to become a writer, adopt a six-year-old boy with autism from foster care, fully include him in a regular school (though he carries at the time the label of “profound mental retardation”), build in his backyard a 600-square foot indoor trampoline house in which the trampoline is level with the floor—the list could go on and on. Only by being exposed to the beautiful and subversive words of literature can one discover, in the words of F.D. Reeve, “the alternatives behind experience.”

Many writers and artists find Iowa a haven for their artistry. What is it about Iowa that draws writers and other artists to Iowa City (or the state)? Iowa is so damn cold that all one can do in the winter is write!

What surprises you about Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in the USA? There are poems on/in the sidewalks!

Are there any books that influenced your life and/or profession? Four books come to mind: Billy Budd by Herman Melville, Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Songs of the Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism by Dawn Prince, and Planet of the Blind by Steven Kuusisto.

Are there any books you’ve read more than once? What are they and what compelled you to re-read them? I’ve read Billy Budd and Moby Dick at least five times each. Melville shows how ambiguity can be a tool of ethical investigation. He further shows that ambiguity can sustain us, matching life’s merciless complexity.

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Tim Terry is a founder and partner of Terry, Lockridge and Dunn Accountants and Business Consultants.

Community: President, Board of Trustees – Willowwind School, and Board Member – City of Literature USA

Family: Wife: Gretchen Rice. Four children: Deborah Margaret (Maggie) 12, Liam Thomas 10, Lila Grace 8, Ella Rose (Rosie) 5, Charles (my Dad) and Teddy (our Cockapoo). I would be remiss if I left out the deer, turkeys, birds and raccoons who help support our backyard eco-system.

Quote:
When I was eleven I picked up my Dad’s copy of Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy. After asking him to explain dozens of words, he finally handed me a dictionary and challenged me to complete the book on my own. Several weeks later, a new world had revealed itself to me. From the politics of the Renaissance to the concept of “milky white marble” my mind was full of unanswered questions. The Brooklyn Public Library became my second home. All subjects seemed to connect and every answer raised more questions. To me, Literature became the Rosetta Stone to my understanding of the empirical world.

Over the years my personal library has grown to thousands of volumes. Each one is like an old friend who I can go to for advice, insight or just a good laugh. As I grow older I realize these friends’ words become more meaningful. They challenge me to view the world from outside of myself.

Each and every aspect of my life is influenced by literature. For me, it is like breathing.

Many writers and artists find Iowa a haven for their artistry. What is it about Iowa that draws writers and other artists to the state?
We have a community that celebrates writers. We should all go someplace where we are appreciated!

What are your currently reading? Is there any book you’ve gone back and read over and over again? Would you tell us why you chose to re-read it and what you learned from doing that?
I usually read several books at the same time. My professional career requires quite a bit of research so my recreational reading is a healthy respite from the more intensive reading I do at work. At present I am reading Harold Bloom’s The Anatomy of Influence, Robert Grave’s Goodbye to All That and Billy Collin’s The Trouble With Poetry. I am also slowly digesting my way through Elizabeth Schmidt’s The Poet Laureate Anthology and Clive James’ Cultural Amnesia. James is helping me wear out my dictionary.

With four children I have lots of additional reading. We are slowly working through the Harry Potter series as well as Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book. It is a four volume collection of fabulous fairy tales. Since my favorite stories begin with “Once upon a time…” it is a wonderful read.

As for the re-reads, Shakespeare’s tragedies and several of Dicken’s works are regulars. I also used to read Huckleberry Finn and Ferlinghetti’s A Coney Island of the Mind once a year. I have abandoned Huck but not Coney. I am revisiting the Commedia because I do not think I got it on the first two reads. I finally came across a Biancolli translation with the Italian on the left. It is slow going but fun.

Many of my re-reads are a result of having been an English Major in college. We went through works so quickly it was like a taste. I am now at the point where I want to savour. I also am bringing more to it as a reader. Dante is much more meaningful to me at 57 than he was at 20! Since I read for both enjoyment and understanding, I rarely feel disappointed.

Are there any books that influenced your life and/or profession? In what way did they influence you or your work?
This is a tough one. I have been the beneficiary of a lot of distilled wisdom from the books I have read. The Oxford Book of English Verse has been a constant bedside companion of mine for the last thirty years. After many a day of disappointments I have turned to it for solace and inspiration. It is often the last read of my day. What I like best is my ability to re-visit my past in the words. Like a song that takes your mind to a different period in your life, some verses just take me home. I like that.

I really like the Aeneid. When I was fifteen I appropriated my brother Bob’s verse translation by Rolfe Humphries. While it is not a scholar’s choice, it is like an old friend. We should all be grateful to Augustus for using his power to annul the clause of Virgil’s will which instructed his executors to burn the manuscript. I think what I learned best was you will make mistakes and be swept up by circumstances. There is nothing wrong with that. The important thing is to honor your commitments to yourself and others. In other words, Didos may come and go but Rome must be founded.

I think Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince also had a profound influence on me as a young man. I like to think I can still see elephants inside boa constrictors.

The only UNESCO City of Literature in the United States is located in Iowa. Does that surprise you?
No!

Is there anything else about Iowa City that surprises you?
Just that more people are not rushing here to experience a fulfilling life in this wonderful community.
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Sarah Lande is the retired Executive Director of Iowa Sister States.

Community: Lande serves in leadership roles in the following organizations: The Community Foundation of Greater Muscatine, Mayor’s Community Improvement Action Team, Muscatine Trails Team, Mississippi River Trail, Inc., Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Friends of UI Health Care Leadership Council, and the Rotary District 6000 Friendship Exchange Committee.

Family: Husband Roger; Daughter Meg Dietz of Coralville, her husband Fred and granddaughters Liza and Sarah Minor; Son, Christopher of Vienna VA, his wife Lisa and grandson John and granddaughter Lucy; and Torre and Pearl, our two black Labrador Retrievers.

Quote: I just love books. How divine it is to spend hours in a book store. I was not much of a reader growing up. My sister-in-law, Donna Lehman, introduced me to the Great Books Foundation. I was intrigued. Sue Koehrsen and I started the Junior Great Books program at the Musser Public Library in Muscatine, Iowa. We recruited volunteers to be trained as teachers and launched the great books program. My curiosity and interest was tickled and I have been submersed in books ever since. I took a speed reading course to help the process.

I read mostly non-fiction books. My book selections follow my passions of travel, international affairs, nature, civic and political affairs, sustainability, history, world peace and cultures. I get many book ideas from listening to Iowa Public Radio. I love to look back at history and read the ideas of futurists. I hope to read biographies of all the Nobel Peace Prize Winners.

I am an active participant in life and community. Books are both my way to renew my soul and to generate ideas to enrich life and seek solutions and issues of the day. I believe the quote from Gandhi, “be the change you want to see”.

I love and concur with the thought expressed in Pat Conway’s book, My Reading Life:
I return a final time to my city of literature, my honored city of books, and the glittering city of words that greets me as I walk through my library. Reading books gave me unlimited access to people I would never have met and cities I couldn’t visit, mountain ranges I would never lay eyes upon or rivers I would never swim. I took whatever book my mother put in my hand and made it part of me. I made it the life of me, the essence of my own tree of knowledge. I built a city out of what my heart loved, my soul yearned for and my eyes desired.

Many writers and artists find Iowa a haven for their artistry. What is it about Iowa that draws writers and other artists to our state? “Beautiful Land” (believed Ioway name for our state) and “Iowa Nice” people provide a place to reflect and nourish inspiring thoughts, creating a path for new ideas to merge.

What are you currently reading?
Richard Louv, The Nature Principle, David Brooks, The Social Animal, David McCullough, The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, Ron Chernow, Washington: A Life, and John Muir, Yosemite in the Spring.

Is there a book you go back to read over and over again? Not too often. There is so much I want to learn about, I keep seeking new adventure and knowledge.

Are there any books that influenced your life/profession? Different books at different life stages:
Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, Donald Worster, Passion for Nature Life of John Muir, E.O. Wilson, The Creation: An appeal to save life on Earth, Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded, Desmond Tutu, No Future without Forgiveness, Wangari Maathai, The Green Belt Movement, Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town, Kenneth Clark, Civilization A Personal View, Will Durant, Lessons of History, Jacob Needleman, American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders, Pat Conroy, My Reading Life, Barbara Kingsolver, Animal Vegetable Miracle, and Adam Gopnik, Angles and Ages A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln and Modern Life.

In what way did they influence you or your work? Activities sparked my reading and broadened my aspirations for knowledge. PEOPLE inspired IDEAS led to BOOKS led to ACTION.

A Great Books discussion program at The Stanley Foundation, stimulated my interest in world peace. The Feminine Mystique opened new horizons for women. Iowa 2000 led by Governor Robert D. Ray and the then University of Iowa President Sandy Boyd sparked interest in the Future. League of Women Voters focused on China, the United Nations and active participation in government. Friendship Force and Iowa Sister States inspired my love of other cultures and travel. Community Improvement Action Team initiated interest in sustainable progressive communities and trails. Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and Mississippi River Trail, Inc., catalyzed my dedication to the magnificent Mississippi River and commitment to preserve, protect and renew our earth’s natural beauty and resources.

The only UNESCO City of Literature in the United States is located in Iowa. Does this surprise you? No. However, it reflects well on the dedication of talented and committed people such as Christopher Merrill who seized the opportunity for Iowa City. People in many cities would think they would qualify, but few would dedicate the time and resources to get it done!

Is there anything about Iowa City that surprises you? New opportunities continually emerge in intellectual programs, lectures, arts, local foods, great trails, parks and lakes. Active citizens pursue their passions with vigor. There is something for everyone with new things sprouting up every day. Iowa City is ALIVE!

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Kristen Stephens Sharma, is the President/CEO, Co-Director of the East-West School of Integrative Healing Artsand Director of Admissions. She teaches Business & Life Enhancement classes, creates the curriculum, selects instructors, councils students, and assists them in finding work after graduation. The Co-Director the East-West School is her husband, Dr. Sunil Sharma.

Kristen is also the Founder/Manager of the school’s sister company, A Massage Oasis, with locations in the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics and the University of Iowa Campus Recreation & Wellness Center. Proceeds from the Massage Oasis support a scholarship fund for students at East-West School.

Professional Background: In 2005, Kristen was a consultant and Advisory Board member for the Deepak Chopra Center for Living, in San Diego, CA. She has had many mentors including Deepak Chopra, Anthony Robbins, Wayne Dyer, Marianne Williamson, and Jack Canfield.

An Iowa City native, Kristen has traveled the world speaking on business, stress-management, attitude and life enhancement issues. She is writing her first book, “The Art and Soul of Business”.

Community: Kristen has been a member of the Iowa City Area Chamber of Commerce for more than 15 years. She received the 2010 Iowa Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award, from the Iowa Small Business Development Centers, which is awarded annually to the Iowa business women who has made a significant difference for herself and others.

Family: Kristen is a native of Iowa City. She lives in Coralville with her husband, Dr. Sunil Sharma, and their four children.

What Reading Means to Me: Reading is so important. I never thought so growing up, because I found it boring. I was too busy playing outside. It was not until I was older that I realized the value of reading. Now I own hundreds of books. They are my prized possessions.

Many writers and artists find Iowa a haven. What is it about this place that draws writers and other artists to Iowa? Iowa is a great place! I have been to almost every continent, and I still love living in Iowa. It’s always great to come home.

Which books influenced your life and/or your professional choices? I have three favorite books. They have all given me insight to living a happier and more fulfilling life:

  • How to Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James
  • From Here to Happiness by Dr. Sunil Sharma (full disclosure, he is my husband!)
  • The Success Principles by Jack Canfield

My Story:My father is a University of Iowa Professor who took a 6 month teaching position in England when I was in first grade. I had not yet learned how to read, and found myself behind the other children in reading skills in England. I finally caught up by the end of our stay, having memorized the words.Upon return to the States, I learned that I had no idea what I was reading. I had not learned how to comprehend the words, and struggled with reading for many years to come. I never wanted to pick up a book for pleasure. Despite my poor and slow reading skills, I excelled in math and science and managed to graduate from high school with honors.

At the age of 19, after dropping out of college, I got a job where I had to read short medical reports over the phone to a judge on a daily basis. I held this position for almost 12 years. The daily practice of reading reports allowed me, over time, to become a much more efficient and confident reader.

I purchased my first book at Barnes and Noble at the Coralville Mall when I was in my thirties. I fell in love with the book store and spent as much time there as possible. Now I am an avid reader, reading books almost daily.

I attribute my business success and balanced life to the many things I have learned from books. I can’t usually go into a book store without wanting to buy something…I love books! I own hundreds of them. I showcase a small library of books at my office. I will always be grateful for the gift of knowing how to learn from reading. I can’t imagine my life now without lots and lots of books!

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Ethel Barker is an author and a retired reading educator in Iowa City. Her forthcoming book is entitled For The Love of Pete: Riding the Orphan Train (Ice Cube Press). It is being released in October 2012

Background: As a child I lived in Illinois, Iowa, and California but have been a permanent Iowa resident since 1951. Education, Grand View College (AA degree), University of Iowa (BA and MAT degrees). Taught Title One reading at Northwest Junior High, did substitute teaching in English, and managed family apartment business.

Family: Husband, Ed Barker, first Principal of West High School (1968-1979). Children: David Barker (Sarah Richardson), Jim Barker (Anna Barker), Alice Miller (Mark Miller), Susan Dresdale. Grandchildren: Eric Miller, Katie Miller, Jacob Dresdale, Anna Dresdale, Gabriel Dresdale, Meg Richardson, Will Barker, Nicholas Barker, Thomas Barker, Emma Barker.

Favorite quote about reading: “Live always in the best company when you read.” Sydney Smith (1771-1845). Since life is short and time limited, it is important to choose the best books and to read them more than once if you find them worthwhile.

Many writers and artists find Iowa a haven for their artistry. What is it about Iowa that draws writers and other artists to our state? Speaking for myself, Iowa is the setting I inevitably choose to write about. It has been my home for most of my life and is the place where I feel at peace. Over the years a deep love of the land, the people, the landscape, and the culture has grown, and all of this feeds my imagination as a story teller.

The only UNESCO City of Literature in the USA is Iowa City. Does this surprise you? Iowa City is full of book lovers, also, many authors and artists. I can almost always find a friend who shares my interest in a particular book. It is a fine experience to attend readings at Prairie Lights or at Barnes and Noble. Also, the city is full of book clubs. Books are discussed in homes, stores, restaurants, churches, and at picnic tables. I enjoy reading the literary quotes as I walk along the downtown sidewalks. I have attended the University of Iowa’s Summer Writing Festival for at least eight summers and have found these really rewarding. In summer there are the book festivals, readings in used and rare book shops, and sometimes even readings on the sidewalk. What a great town!

Are there any books/authors that influenced your life?
The first would be the Bible, then mythology and fairy tales. As a child I particularly enjoyed Heidi and Little Women. I have read much of Mark Twain’s work, also Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck,Thoreau, Rolvaag, Flaubert, Tolstoy, Austen, Dickens, and Eliot. I loved reading Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad. I greatly enjoyed reading Njal’s Saga and numerous other Icelandic Sagas. Since my heritage is Scandinavian (both parents were Danish) I have enjoyed reading books by Selma Lagerlof, Sigrid Undset, and Vilhelm Moberg. There are so many more favorites, but it would take too much space to list all of them. Reading is one of life’s greatest joys.

Is there a book you go back to read over and over again?
I have re-read many of the above listed books a second and even a third time. I enjoyed multiple readings of Huckleberry Finn, Walden, The Great Gatsby, Madame Bovary, Great Expectations, and many others. During the first reading I am usually so immersed in the story line that I miss many details. It is difficult to say goodbye to a good story, and if this is how I feel, I read it again. If it is a great book the second or third readings reveal different levels of understanding that I missed the first time through. Finding these is exciting and powerful.

What books are on your list that remain to be read? I would like read all of the “Great Books” and many on the current lists that are winning awards. Unfortunately, time is limited, and so is the length of life, but I will persevere as long as I am able.

Is there a book that you most often give as a gift? A good dictionary makes a fine gift, also a thesaurus, an almanac, or an atlas. Most anybody can benefit from these. I am a little more careful in giving books of fiction or even non-fiction, trying to make choices that fit the recipient’s taste and interest.

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Larry Baker teaches American History at Kirkwood Community College, and American Lit and Culture at the University of Iowa. He has a PhD in English and is the author of four novels and numerous short stories. His new novel, LOVE AND OTHER DELUSIONS, can be pre-ordered now from Ice Cube Press.

An active member in the Iowa City Community, Mr. Baker has served on the City Council of Iowa City, the Planning and Zoning Commission, and is currently serving on the Iowa City Board of Adjustment.

Why I read:  As a child, I discovered that reading was the best form of Time and Space travel. Alone with a good book, I could be anywhere else, any time.

Many writers and artists find Iowa a haven for their artistry. What is it about Iowa that draws writers and other artists to Iowa City (or the state)?
Like many people in Iowa City, I came here as a student. And like them, I stayed after I finished school. I ignored the weather. Iowa City had the best of what any college town offers: youth, learning, affluence, security, intellectual and aesthetic opportunities of a big city without the obvious down side of big city living.

What do you find surprising you about Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in the USA, and what do tell people about it?
Pros and cons here. Being involved in IC politics for so long, I know about a lot of the social problems that have developed over the years. Many of my more affluent friends would be surprised at how much poverty exists here. Thus, we tend to idealize our community. Still, Iowa City is one of the best places to live in America. I was not surprised that we were chosen as a City of Literature. The long history of the Workshop, the International Writing Program, a highly educated population, a constant influx of writers coming to town, great bookstores, all concentrated in a small town…Iowa City seems an obvious selection.

Are there any books/authors that influenced your life?
I always admit the usual suspects. No obscure influences for me. I fell in love with Nineteenth Century American writers, especially the prose of Hawthorne and Melville and the stunning poetry of Emily Dickinson. Later, I discovered Flannery O’Connor. Hawthorne showed me the power of symbolism and a basic theme of Sin and Redemption; O’Connor showed me how those symbols and themes could be ironically inverted for even greater effect. O’Connor also gave me a basic lesson in authorship—write what you want, and let the audience catch up to you. Other influences? Shakespeare and the King James Bible. The bookends of the English language.

Is there a book you go back to read over and over again?
Moby Dick, Great Gatsby, The Education of Henry Adams, Scarlet Letter, a few Shakespeare plays, and about 300 Dickinson poems. Many more. Every person has their own favorites. But great writing is like all great art. Think of music or painting. The pleasure of listening to Beethoven or Gershwin, others, is not dulled by repetition. Each time is like the first time. Lame writing and music…gone for ever. With writing, insight is certainly easier with a second reading, but I read something again as much for the pleasure of the experience as for any intellectual gain. Great writing is an aesthetic joy. Was it Twain who said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.” The books or poems I read over and over again—lightning.

What books are on your list that remain to be read?
I always look forward to new books by writers I like. Stewart O’Nan and Keith Donohue always have a future reader in me. In the past few years, however, I find myself reading more and more non-fiction. And thus I look forward to new stuff from Joseph Ellis or Erik Larson.

Is there a book that you most often give as a gift?
Well, if I ever win the Mega-Millions, a lot of people I know are getting a lot of books. But, for now, I mostly give recommendations. Also, any gift book in the past that I have given had to take into account the recipient. If I know what people liked, I can often guess what they will like in the future. A few years ago, I sent a lot of people a copy of Donohue’s STOLEN CHILD….and they loved it as much as I did.

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Susan Boyd is a graduate of Wellesley College. She has held the Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Writing at Stanford, was a reporter and features writer for Minneapolis Star and Tribune, and served as the patient representative at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics 1976-1981. Additionally, she wrote and edited Syllabus for the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, American Bar Association, as well as The ABA’s First Section: Assuring a Qualified Bar, and The Wide-Brimmed Hat, a collection of short stories.

Community:I moved here in 1954, and was instantly drawn to the Writers’ Workshop and have enjoyed attending readings and coming to know some of the writers. Active in the University Club (especially in writing scripts for some of their shows), the Iowa Museum of Art, and other volunteer work. Following my husband’s presidency of the University of Iowa (1969-1981), we moved to Chicago where he was president of the Field Museum (1981-1996). We then returned to Iowa City where I published my first book and continued to write.

Family:Betsy, our daughter, is married to Bill Nusser, and they have two children, Ross and Charlie; all of them living in Iowa City. Our son Bill, and his wife Diane, live in West Des Moines and are the parents of Haley, Will, and Katherine. Tom and his wife Liz live in St. Paul, MN, and have two boys, Tommy and Louie.

“I’d much rather have a book for Christmas than clothes or food.” (This may not be a very fancy quote—I felt it rather than said it, but I was always thrilled to see a book shaped gift with my name on it under the tree.)

Many writers and artists find Iowa a haven for their artistry. What is it about Iowa that draws writers and other artists to our state?:
I grew up in Minneapolis which had a great many authors, then took advantage of meeting others in the Boston area when I was in college, as well as California, but I don’t believe any area draws and encourages writers and artists than Iowa City. The Workshop has a great deal to do with this, but so does Prairie Lights Bookstore. The community as a whole, though, is a welcoming place for writers, artists and musicians who have new ideas.

What do you find surprising you about Iowa City, the only UNESCO City of Literature in the USA, and what do tell people about it?
Noting really. Once the idea began to simmer, it was bound to happen. As for telling other people about the City of Literature, I am sure to mention every aspect of the community that makes it so special, including the International Writing Program, and the Summer Writing Festival.

Are there any books/authors that influenced your life?
Little Women leads the list. I received a copy when I was about seven and read it several times. A local radio station in Minneapolis aired a dramatization of this book with local actors. When a department store announced a contest for the best letter professing the best chapter, I entered and, to my surprise, won! I was excused from the third grade to accept the prize (a copy of the book signed by the actors). I think there were a few other winners, but they were all adults…

Katherine Mansfield’s stories, in particular, The Garden Party influenced my own early stories. When I was in college, I read Thomas Mann’s stories in German, The Magic Mountain, Tonio Kröger, and Death in Venice, and have enjoyed them ever since. I was able to meet Thomas Mann during the summer of my sophomore year when I served on the College Board of Editors for Mademoiselle magazine. I also really like Wallace Stegner’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain, and Crossing to Safety.

Is there a book you go back to read over and over again?
Meg Pei’s Salaryman, Frank Conroy’s Stop Time, Jean Ross Justice’s The End of a Good Party, and all of Alice Munro’s short stories. Since I write short stories, I am very fond of reading good ones by other authors. Bharati Mjukherjee wrote an outstanding story which I consider a classic, but I don’t have a copy handy and don’t recall the title. Ethan Canin’s Emperor of the Air, is an excellent story collection, which I pour over frequently.

What books are on your list that remain to be read?
Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Montaigne’s essays, Virgil’s Aeneid, and the plays of Athol Fugard and Friedrich Schiller.

Is there a book that you most often give as a gift?
Jean Ross Justice’s The End of a Good Party, Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, Robert Tracker’s Alice Munro Writing Her Lives, Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage, Calm Toibin’s Brooklyn, and Mary Webb’s Precious Bane.