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March 2, 2013

Local residents share their favorite tales

By Shirley O'Shea
The Daily Star

---- — “Read Across America Day,” an annual event honored in schools and communities throughout the United States on or around the birthday of children’s author Theodor Seuss Geisel — known to readers of all ages as Dr. Seuss — is meant to instill in children an awareness of, and a passion for, the power of the printed word. This year, Read Across America Day was Friday, the day before Geisel’s birthday, March 2.

Schools host daylong readings of Dr. Seuss’ works and other books, often involving parents, to show the pure delight that literacy can give over a lifetime.

A number of people in the area spoke about their favorite book or the book that most influenced them, and why they chose that book. People read for diverse reasons. For some, giving an answer was very difficult. For others, the answer came readily. And others simply could not be limited to one volume.

“I live and breathe books!” Bertha Rogers of Bright Hill Press and Literary Center in Treadwell wrote. “In fact, while I was recuperating from my accident, I read about 60 books. My favorite among those was Richard Ford’s ‘Canada,’ a stunning book — I think about its characters and the devastating plot almost every day.”

Dr. Margaret L. Drugovich, president of Hartwick College in Oneonta, wrote that her favorite literary work is Sigrid Undset’s fictional trilogy “Kristin Lavransdatter.”

Drugovich described the trilogy as “a very well-written tale of an often courageous woman who was able to navigate the trials of Norwegian life in the Middle Ages. Despite some extraordinary, and other rather ordinary, obstacles, she was able to live a life of dignity because of her personal determination to do so as she learned to depend upon and hone her personal strengths. It was the perfect book for a 16-year-old girl (my age when I read it) who was drawn to and inspired by examples of strong women among my family, my teachers, and friends.”

George Betts of Worcester wrote that his favorite book was British author George Eliot’s sweeping and complex Victorian novel, “Daniel Deronda” (1876).

The novel that inspired Mayor Dick Miller of Oneonta to dream impossible dreams was Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 “The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha.”

Miller said that for him, the novel encourages readers “to try to accomplish more that what seems reasonable or possible — and in doing so to be prepared to fail.”

The Rev. Mark Michael’s most influential book is the novel “The Diary of a County Priest” (1937) by French author Georges Bernanos.

“It’s the story of a young priest in a French village, who believes that his work for God has all been in vain, but who also grows in saintliness through suffering and leaves a legacy of deep faith,” Michael, the rector of Christ Church in Cooperstown, wrote. “I read it just before I was ordained to the priesthood, and many times since.”

Dr. William F. Streck, president and CEO of Bassett Healthcare, is an avid reader of presidential biography. The most influential one he has read, he said, was David McCullough’s “Truman” (1993). Streck has read Gore Vidal’s “Lincoln,” and Robert Caro’s multi-volume history of Lyndon Johnson, and all of those figures “had ideas and they were tenacious,” Streck said.

For Steve Page, fitness center and cardio center coordinator at the Oneonta YMCA, the book most influential for him is the Bible.

“The principles in there are good — they lay the good foundation for a good, solid life.”

His choice of most interesting book is Karen Ralls’ scholarly work “The Templars and the Grail.”

“Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ and Plato’s ‘Apology’ are my favorite and most influential books, my go-to’s,” said Bob Berglewicz, assistant manager of the Green Earth Health Food Market. “I think both books explore concepts and mindsets that are not held by the majority and help me to remember to shed my own light and thought processes on things instead of taking them for what they are.”

David Greene, strength and conditioning specialist at HealthLinks@Foxcare in Oneonta, named another book about the power of the free individual.

“‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ because of the conflict there,” he said. 

Greene said he first read Ken Kesey’s “Cuckoo’s Nest” (1962) as a college student and said he has read it “hundreds of times” since.

The novel recounts the battle of wills between the dauntless McMurphy, a psychiatric hospital patient, and the hospital’s formidable representative, Nurse Ratched, who subtly dehumanizes the hospital’s inmates.

“It’s that epic battle of man against the elements. (McMurphy) sacrificed it all when it would have been easier for him to succumb,” Greene said.

“I think ‘East of Eden’ by John Steinbeck influenced me most,” wrote Danielle Newell, executive director of the Smithy Center for the Arts in Cooperstown. “Steinbeck taught me a great deal about myself and others. Empathy is a powerful thing, and Steinbeck inspired some of my first insights into what makes great storytelling: a love for people and fascination with all their strengths and weaknesses.”

“It’s hard to pick one,” Oneonta writer and Star contributor Adrienne Martini said. But she settled on David Foster Wallace’s 1996 novel, “Infinite Jest,” a tome that contains more than 1,000 pages. Martini said that she has read it twice.

“It blew my mind,” Martini said. “I didn’t realize fiction could do that. I just didn’t realize that you could make it that complicated, self-referential and funny.”

The eminent English comic writer, P.G. Wodehouse, was the author The Daily Star’s editor Sam Pollak’s choice, focusing on the compendium “The World of Jeeves.”

“It’s a wonderful collection of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves stories written by, in my opinion and others’, the best and funniest author of the 20th century,” Pollak wrote.

A novel of historical fiction, Jane Porter’s “Scottish Chiefs,” and an otherworldly romance set in the rainforest, W.H. Hudson’s “Green Mansions,” were the most influential books of Mary Lynn Bensen’s adolescence. In adulthood, Bensen, a librarian at SUNY Oneonta, took to 19th-century writer Thomas Hardy for the richness of his language, she said.

Robert Bensen, professor of English at Hartwick College, was most influenced by a book of poetry written by a friend of his youth, he said — “Letters to a Stranger” by Thomas James.

“It’s the first book that was written by someone I knew,” Bensen, a poet, said. “We were students together. That book, when it came out, led me to think that this is possible to do. Maybe I could make a book.”

As an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, Tom Heitz, of the Greater Oneonta Historical Society, read many novels. Heitz said the most influential on him was Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.”

“(Conrad) made me a better writer,” Heitz said. “Good readers can become good writers.”

City of Oneonta historian Mark Simonson’s choice was Eugene D. Milener’s “Oneonta — The Development of a Railroad Town.” (1983)

“I was living in Massachusetts at the time and reading about my old hometown. It captured me,” Simonson said. “Little did I realize that I’d be back here doing this.”

Wayne McWilliams of Laurens’s wrote, “I decided to go back to books I read in high school but which I still enjoy re-reading today — some 40 years later!”

They are J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy classic “The Hobbit,” with Harper Lee’s novel of racial injustice and coming of age in the segregated South, “To Kill A Mockingbird” (1960) coming in “a very close second.”

Lydia J. Mahoney of Schuyler Lake wrote, “With the beautiful, yet simplistic writing style of Avi, and vibrant illustrations by Marjorie Priceman, ‘Things That Sometimes Happen,’ is one of my favorite books.” 

Mahoney called Avi, a children’s book author, “(a)n artist with words,” and added that the short story collection “will touch the emotions and creativity of any (age) reader.”

But the man on whose birthday Read Across America Day is observed, Dr. Seuss, is the perennial favorite of Mary Giudice of Oneonta.

“Many years ago when I (baby-)sat children, I would read the many books of Dr. Seuss,” Giudice wrote.

During quiet time, Giudice wrote, she would ask what book her charges wanted to read first. “Always and always their response was ‘Green Eggs and Ham,’” according to Giudice. 

“For these little pre-schoolers, I’d have to say our reading time and especially ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ was their favorite and mine too to this day,” Giudice wrote. “Thank you, Dr. Seuss.”