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President’s Bookshelf

Winter Reading

December 6, 2012 — 
President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard

President and Vice-Chancellor David Barnard

When I was much younger I was always disappointed to read the last book by a favourite author. I thought that there would be no replacement for the experience of joy that such a favourite writer’s books can bring. I eventually learned, though, that as real as that disappointment might be, there are always new authors to enjoy. In the past year I’ve reread some and also found some new ones.

The release of the movie Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy prompted me to read (in some cases reread) several of the books written by John Le Carré, especially the early ones. I wanted to have the sequence of them in mind, and to have the story from which the movie was drawn firmly in mind in its original form before seeing the movie. My wife and I watch many movies but almost always at home (or on airplanes) rather than when they are newly in theatres, so I had plenty of time for this little project before the movie was available to us at home. Since those stories were so realistically embedded in the times in which they were written the older ones, when read decades later, are like a bit of time travel. But they are still intriguing, especially for the layering and interconnecting of parts of the story line.

In the spring the poet Jan Zwicky came to UM for a visit; together we presented an evening with the title “The President and the Poet.” I find her poetry to be beautifully lyrical and evocative, and her philosophical writings to be stimuli for careful reflection. In preparation for her visit I reread much of her work, and afterwards read the most recent volume of poems, Forge.

Just a few weeks ago I read The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I had been aware of it, and when Gursh and I saw it in an airport bookstore earlier in the year we bought a copy but I let it sit for quite a while untouched. Cancer has touched most of our lives in one way or another. I have had several colleagues and friends who have suffered from it, some recovering and some not. My mother died from it. The book describes the suffering that is possible, but also the pursuit of knowledge about the disease and the development of treatments for it.  It is difficult to read in parts and it is difficult to set aside because of the reality and prevalence of the disease in our lives.

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