Ring in the New Year with books

December 29, 1996

If you could assign a well-known author to write a book in 1997, who would be the author? What would be the subject? What should the book do?

What book, 15 years old or older, deserves new attention? Why?

Jean McGarry

Novelist, who will have her fifth book, "Gallagher's Travels," published by The Johns Hopkins University Press in the spring. She teaches in the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University.

Grace Paley should write a collection of a stories, a "Little Disturbances of Man" set in the 1980s or 1990s. I relish the idea of that sharp eye and ear applied to more resistant times and subjects.

"History," a novel by Elsa Morante, recounts the day-by.-day struggles of a mother and child during the 1944 bombardment of Rome. In addition to being the best war novel I've read, "History" contains the most exquisite rendering of an exceptional child.

Marvin Hamlisch

Director of the Baltimore Pops Orchestra

As someone who loves history, I am now becoming interesting in history which will be made when we reach the other side of New Year's Eve 1999. I would choose Russell Baker and/or William Safire to write about the political implications of reaching the year 2000 and to give us insight into the challenges we will face in the new millennium.

"Anatomy of Peace," a book written by Emery Reves in 1945, focused on the dangers of extreme nationalism, and it being a major cause of war in the world. I used the philosophy of this book for my symphonic suite, "Anatomy of Peace," to continue to convey these important and relevant ideas which the world needs today as much as it did in 1945.

Yvonne L. Mercer

Lake Clifton-Eastern High School library media specialist

Miss Lillie Patterson should write a book about people who have made an impact on society. This book would share the productive outlooks and plans of progressive people.

"Black Insights: Significant Literature by Black Americans 1760 to The Present," by Nick Aaron Ford. This source was published in 1971 and needs updating to show the significant contributions of writers in the '80s and '90s.

Christopher Nelson

President of St. John's College.

I would ask Toni Morrison to continue to write whatever springs from her imagination.

Euclid's "Elements" is the most elegant introduction to mathematics ever written. The elements of geometry are presented in a simple but well-ordered progression from definitions, postulates and common notions to proofs. The book builds to a climax and has the power and beauty most characteristic of great works of art. A must-read to develop the intellect and the discipline of orderly and logical argument.

Jonathan R. Cohen

Publisher of Commentary, he was staff adviser to New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch before earning his law degree in 1989. Before that, he was a broadcast and print journalist in New York.

I would bring Joseph Conrad back from the dead to update "The Shadow Line," his 1917 novella about the turning point in a merchant sailor career.

This time the story would concern work (instead of adventure) as the bridge from waning young adulthood to early middle age. It would dramatize in a modern setting how a young man reaches maturity by mastering a series of seemingly dreary, but in fact character-building office jobs, while his contemporaries lose their souls in pursuit of instant success. Published by the Nobel Prize-winning Swede Per Lagerkvist in 1945, and translated into English in 1973, "The Dwarf" is a strange, beautiful fictional memoir of a malcontent in the service of an Italian prince. "The Dwarf" pokes cruel fun at the limits and hypocrisies of Renaissance aspirations to beauty, perfection and grace. The unexpected result is a tribute to the nobility of the human spirit in the form of a reminder of its baseness. This complicated but compelling lesson seems especially fitting as our civilization prepares to end a century of great achievements and atrocious crimes.

Vincent Fitzpatrick

Curator of the H. L. Mencken Collection of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

I wish that Theodore Dreiser, a novelist with a great soul and a profound concern for life's victims, were around now to write a contemporary version of "An American Tragedy."

Paul Fussell's "The Great War and Modern Memory" (1975), that remarkable combination of military history and literary criticism which received a National Book Award, is as moving as it is wise. It should be always with us, for it explains our modern sensibility of irony and skepticism, and it reminds us of the murderous lunacy of which humankind is capable.

Willis Regier

Director of the Johns Hopkins University Press.

I wish that Madison Smartt Bell would write a book about West Virginia. He has already established himself as a fiction writer, but it would be welcome news that he has turned his talents to non-fiction, reflecting on the state where he was born and letting the rest of the world know what is worth knowing.

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