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Arts & Culture

What We’re Reading: WYSO Staff And Hosts Share Their Social Distancing Book Lists

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Local library buildings are closed for now, but many of our local library systems are keeping the Miami Valley entertained with digital offerings.  If you’re not sure what to read next, WYSO staff and hosts are sharing what we’re reading at home right now.

Luke Dennis, General Manager:
With the libraries closed I have been pulling books off the shelf and re-reading. Right now I'm about finished with 100 Years of Solitude. Garcia Marquez created such a complete world unto itself, with its own magical rules, that it's been a comforting escape to lose myself in it. I'm also re-reading some Hemingway short stories because he was one of the clues on "Jeopardy!" last week, so he's been on my mind.

Tod Weidner, Host of The Jewel Case:

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The book that's been helping me pass the time through this is Richard Williams' The Blue Moment. It deals with the recording of Miles Davis' watershed album Kind Of Blue, as well as the series of events that led up to the sessions and the cultural and artistic ramifications of the album's release.

It's a fascinating read in and of itself, but there's also a bit of serendipity about my coming upon this book. Right before the COVID-19 crisis broke, I traveled back to Ohio from California, where my wife and I live now. A friend of my family's, the man who first turned me on to jazz, had dropped the book off for me to borrow at my parents' house. As it turns out, as the world as we know it went pear-shaped, it's a very appropriate album to read about. The space, the melancholy...the zen quality of that record makes it  a perfect soundtrack to these times of enforced isolation. Highly recommended- both the book AND the album.

Neenah Ellis, President of Miami Valley Public Media:
I’m reading She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey and back issues of many magazines.

Art Boulet, Business Manager:
Luckily I three pretty long (500+ pages) books that I had requested from other area libraries arrived at the Yellow Springs library for me the day before they closed, so I have been busy!

My quarantine reading list has been as follows:

1) Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky - finished this at the end of March. This was a fascinating read that brought together behavioral economics, biology, and the influence of culture on our decision making. I had heard Sapolsky on RadioLab a few times and was excited to finally read one of his books and this certainly did not disappoint. His breadth and depth of knowledge combined with his humor made this 700+ page book seem much shorter and the dense topic seem much more approachable and enjoyable. One of the best parts about the book: his footnotes are informative and (sometimes) hilarious. I left a Post-It note in the book to inform the next borrower to make sure they don't skip the them!

2) Hobbit/Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien - a comforting re-read. This, along with the Chronicles of Narnia, bring me back to my childhood. I still remember reading them at my "fancy desk" (an old, wooden desk I still have that was given to me by my grandfather and namesake, Arthur Boulet) and hoping that one day I would have the bravery and moral fiber of Frodo combined with the loyalty of Samwise. I probably also wanted the magical powers of Gandalf, but I've given up on the dream!

3) The Evolution of God by Robert Wright - this brings me back to my grad school days: looking at how the political and cultural milieu of religion impacts not only how holy books took their shape, but how religious communities express their understanding of their god(s), both literally through their holy books and performatively through their worship/practices. I'm about 1/3 of the way through it at this point and am 100% hooked! Wright is a fantastic writer (his book on the neurological validity of meditation practices entitled Why Buddhism is True is another good example of his excellent writing) who combines exhaustive research with clear examples, humorous antidotes, and very level headed conclusions.

4) Our National Parks by John Muir - I am an outdoor enthusiast. When I daydream I don't think of owning a mansion or driving a fancy car. I think of backcountry camping in Yosemite or Gates of the Arctic. I read and reread this book as I'm sitting outside on a nice day and let Muir take me on a journey through Yellowstone or Yosemite. His deep love for nature combined with his poetic writing moves me in a way that few other authors can (Theoreau being among his peers in that regard). Definitely my favorite quarantine escape (see also: Ken Burn's documentary on the National Parks).

Peter Hayes, Director of Operations:
On the Kindle I'm revisiting the Sherlock Holmes adventures by Arthur Conan Doyle.

In traditional book form I'm revisiting the Horatio Hornblower series of books by C. S. Forester.

Great escapes both.

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Katie Main, Business Support and Events Manager:
I am personally catching up on a long list of books I planned to read for over a year (I just finished 9 Strangers by Liane Moriarty and Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.)  I am also reading the Harry Potter series with my kids. We have completed the first 2 and are now working our way through Book 3, The Prisoner of Azkaban. These characters are familiar to me and I love rereading it with my kids and reliving the anticipation and excitement through them!

Mike Fraizer, Morning Edition Host:
I'm catching up on some unread Star Wars books and back-issues of Mother Earth Living and Weatherwise magazines.  I also set an ambitious goal of reading the entire Internet but they keep adding new stuff, so....

Evan Miller, Music Department Assistant and Host of The Outside:
I find it difficult sometimes to find moments to read in my day-to-day life, so I'm taking the opportunity in this topsy-turvy time to make a dent in my book backlog! Right now, I'm reading Kim Gordon's memoir, Girl In A Band. As a founding member of seminal noise/alternative rock band Sonic Youth, it's really fascinating to hear about the chronicles of the band and her life, and the history and evolution of that music scene (from NYC and beyond) from someone who lived it at the forefront. Highly recommended for anyone interested in 80s/90s indie rock!

Sara Woodhull, Major Gifts Officer:
I recommend The Overstory by Richard Powers and any Roald Dahl books for kids or the ones he wrote for adults!

Jerry Kenney's book shelf, organized by color.
Credit Jerry Kenney / WYSO
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WYSO
Jerry Kenney's book shelf, organized by color.

Jerry Kenney, All Things Considered Host and Reporter:
The photo above is of the books I received from my grandmother after she passed, old novels from the 40s and 50s. I spent a lot of time just looking through them when I was a kid. I’ve read a few over the years, and I am now making a concerted effort to get through more of them. I have a friend who’s an accountant and it drives him crazy that I have filed the books by color. I'm currently reading Lord Johnnie, a really fun book.

Here’s the Good Reads summary of the plot:

“In eighteenth-century England, a "lady of quality" could marry a condemned criminal to escape her debts. Lady Leanna married Lord Johnnie in Newgate dungeon. She thought he would go to the gallows at dawn. But no hangman's noose could cheat Johnnie the Rogue of his lawful prize."

Bill Felker, Host of Poor Will’s Almanack: 
I’ve been rereading the Bach Flower Remedies and a wonderful book, Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean by Jonathan White. Lots of information and many good stories, as well. Also In Praise of the Useless Life: A Monk’s Memoir by Paul Quenon. The author knew Thomas Merton well, and this is a wise memoir about the monastic life.

Juliet Fromholt, Webmaster and Programming Coordinator and Host of Kaleidoscope and Alpha Rhythms:
I’ve been working my way through Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram, which was introduced to me by Bill Felker in a Poor Will’s Almanack episode a while back.  I’m also revisiting Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles books, which have been with me since I was a teeanger.  The characters, for better or worse, are like old friends, and it’s nice to step back into their world.

Andy Valeri, Co-host of Around the Fringe:
I stay pretty engaged reading regularly every day, though much of it is current event socio-political stuff from various publications. As for books, though, one I'm currently immersed in is Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, a really interesting read from E.F. Schumacher from 1972. I had never heard of this work before, and it's inspirationally eye opening, and still feels completely relevant to today. Maybe even more so in regards to our current situation, as it gives a great blueprint in how to re-align how we as a society operate, to provide for things to operate much more locally, so as to better serve the real needs of people.  I'm also in the middle of a book about my favorite artists, Komar & Melamid, whose groundbreaking work is worth checking out (their "People's Choice" art exhibit was/is hilariously brilliant).

But those are just a couple I'm digging into among the stacks of books all around me staring at me awaiting my attention - ha.

Basim Blunt, Dayton Youth Radio Project Coordinator and Host of Behind the Groove:
I've been doing a daily Bible study and it's been amazing! Especially during this season of Easter mixed into the COVID-19 events affecting everyone.  Whether you're religious or not, the scriptures include all the good stuff; murder, betrayal, war, irony and lust. All the things you want in a good read. And it has the biggest spoiler alert in literature.

I have a King James version that was given to me by my grandma Ora, it's very special because I never got to meet her and she passed away in 1968. But somehow when I met an older cousin at a family reunion he said, he'd been holding on to Ora's Bible for all these years and gave it to me. It's so old, and it's got duct tape holding the spine together. It has all the birth dates and death dates of my ancestors written inside.

Vick Mickunas, Host of the Book Nook:
I'm reading more than usual since the shop where I have worked for the last 25 years was forced to close. I'm averaging a book a day. Here are the last five:

A Private Cathedral by James Lee Burke (out May 26) this legendary novelist's 40th book mingles horror with solving crimes.

The Voter File by David Pepper (out June 2) a dastardly conspiracy to rig elections is the product of the well-informed imagination of the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. Don't say this cannot happen.

The Mist by Ragnar Jonasson (June 23) my favorite Icelandic author returns with the final book in a trilogy featuring a troubled but determined police detective who has endured her share of personal tragedies.

The Rat Began to Gnaw the Rope by C.W. Grafton (published in 1943) the first book by a Louisville lawyer who dreamed of becoming a popular novelist. It never happened. Great fiction writer, though. When this book came out he had a daughter who was three years old. She grew up to become the blockbuster novelist Sue Grafton.

Promise Me You'll Shoot Yourself - the Mass Suicide of Ordinary Germans in 1945 by Florian Huber (March 10) the title says it all.

Tom Duffee, Host emeritus of A Country Ramble and fill-in host for Down Home Bluegrass:
In seclusion, I have returned to an old friend:  Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.  Gibbon’s prose is a visceral pleasure.  Sort of like eating chocolate cake, except that the pleasure is more lasting and less fattening!  Let me illustrate by a passage:

“From the great secular games celebrated by Phillip to the death of the emperor Gallienus there elapsed (A.D. 248-268) twenty years of shame and misfortune.  During that calamitous period every instant of time was marked, every province of the Roman world was afflicted by barbarous invaders and military tyrants, and the ruined empire seemed to approach the last and fatal moment of its dissolution.  The confusion of the time, and the scarcity of authentic memorials, oppose equal difficulties to the historian, who attempts to preserve a clear and unbroken thread of narration.  Surrounded with imperfect fragments, always concise, often obscure, and sometimes contradictory, he is reduced to collect, to compare, and to conjecture; and though he ought never to place his conjectures in the rank of facts, yet the knowledge of human nature, and of the sure operation of its fierce and unrestrained passions, might, on some occasions, supply the want of historical materials.”

I like this passage for several reasons:

  • The beauty of his use of the English language.  Modern readers may be struck by the use of the masculine possessive pronoun, but Gibbon lived (mid-18th century) long before the idea of a more inclusive use of language.  Still, the vocabulary, the sentence structure, and the use of punctuation is absolutely thrilling.  In almost every paragraph (perhaps, like Wilde in fiction) , Gibbon’s epigrammatic composition is worth studying, re-reading, and remembering.
  • The magisterial synthesis of the first two sentences.  Gibbon’s history is not a dry narrative of facts and dates.  It is, rather, more of a comprehensive editorializing essay.  Gibbon never fails to note the corrupting nature of despotism as the Roman Republic decayed into the tyranny of Empire -- even if those tyrants were sympathetic and effective administrators (yes, such did exist).
  • The self-examination of the role of the historian.  Gibbon is famous for his use of primary sources.  Yet he writes about a time for which few extant descriptions exist.  Those that do contain story and myth, as well as fact.  Gibbon’s choices may be criticized (as they have been), but he guides us into his project with eyes wide-open and without sinister intent.

We read history to understand the present and help make choices about the future.  Gibbon is a wonderful guide to those choices.  It doesn’t hurt, though, that the language is so exhilarating.