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President’s Bookshelf

Recent Books

June 6, 2013 — 
President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard

President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard

These occasional notes about my reading are evidence, as I look back on them, of the eclectic nature of my interests — I read books on a wide range of topics that are written by authors I’ve come to enjoy in the past, that are given to me as gifts by members of my family or close friends, that are recommended by others I know to have interesting tastes, that appear in reviews I stumble upon and occasionally (though less frequently than in the past) that I find while browsing in bookshops. Here are some things I’ve read in the past few months.

The music and poetry of Leonard Cohen have been increasingly appealing to me in recent years. So when I saw a review of Alan Light’s The Holy or the Broken that focusses on Cohen’s song “Hallelujah”, I was intrigued by the idea of it and then pleased to receive it as a gift at Christmas. Light pays attention to the lyrics and what they suggest to him about Cohen’s thinking, but also to the several iconic recordings of the song and their impact. After reading the book it was a particular pleasure to hear Cohen sing it at his Winnipeg concert on April 26.

About 15 years ago I stumbled on The Best American Poetry, a series of annual selections guided by David Lehman, with a different editor each year. I began to watch for the new volumes as they appeared. Being somewhat compulsive, I wanted to complete my collection so after a few years looked for copies of the earlier volumes from sources advertising online, and managed to get a complete series in near mint condition. The Best American Poetry 2012 was edited by Mark Doty. More recently, Molly Peacock became the series editor for a Canadian counterpart, and The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2012 was edited by Carmine Starnino. These annuals always contain some poems not to my personal taste but also some that are worth continuing the collecting.

I began reading the work of the American writer Donald Hall decades ago, beginning with his poetry. I learned about his marriage to the poet Jane Kenyon and came to deeply appreciate her work. Recently I read Hall’s memoir of their life together, structured around the progress of the leukemia that eventually took her. The Best Day the Worst Day: Life With Jane Kenyon is a very open and moving account of their relationship and Kenyon’s death.

Edmund Morris has written three volumes about Theodore Roosevelt, dealing with the period prior to, during and after his presidency of the United States, respectively. The second of these, Theodore Rex, chronicles Roosevelt’s work as President, but also shows his energy and erudition. He loved the outdoors — traveling, hunting, hiking, boating, etc. — and wanted to preserve the natural heritage of the country. He also read an amazing amount on many topics and in several languages. That he could do so while carrying such heavy responsibilities can be an encouragement to all of us.


This column first appeared in the June 6, 2013 edition of The Bulletin.


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