Stolen moments of reading gratify this busiest of men

Books of the Region

September 11, 2005|By James H. Bready | James H. Bready,Special to the Sun

Book-reading time is hard to come by for William R. Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University. Time did offer, this summer during flights to and from the new Johns Hopkins medical and musical installation in Singapore. But now -- with classes resumed, and Brody back in his Homewood office, the copy of A Brahms Reader, by Michael Musgrave, that sits on his large mahogany desk (once, the partners' desk of Johns Hopkins, 19th-century merchant prince) -- that book is unopened.

And just out Brody' s windows, construction is beginning on the university's newest quadrangle -- a spectator lure for anyone, from a new freshman to the top administrator. All right, tomorrow morning, while a chauffeur drives President Brody to a medical meeting in East Baltimore -- a respite, a go at Brahms? No; a chance, rather, to read departmental proposals for budget increases.

When he took office, in 1996, Brody's credentials were in pragmatism: electrical engineering, medicine, inventing, business. But turfs vary (sometimes, chafe) on his campuses (four in Baltimore alone; do not underrate those in Washington, Italy, China). Here, Research (capital R) flourishes; there, the many forms of scholarly criticism. Always, money intrudes (that 10-digit yearly outlay). Not every president survives, on the Ivy League level; and Brody's upbringing went on amid John Steinbeck settings in rural California. Who yanked him upward, to college and grad school? He still thanks the memory of Agnes Hoffman, the senior-year English teacher who, forcefully, showed her kids how to read, understand and write about literature.

Today's Brody-watchers include his wife, Wendy, and their two grown children. And a retinue of secretaries. Working out in a Hopkins gym, he swarms up its climbing wall. In other interludes, at the presidential residence's piano, he performs classic scores. Recently, Brody acquired a personal aircraft, learned flying and has a commercial pilot's license. Yet, books still engage him. Periodically, for Page One of the JHU Gazette, under the headline "Thinking Out Loud," Brody reports on recent reading. En route from Singapore, Freakonomics, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner.

Brody particularly likes books "by contrarians," such as Michael Lewis' Moneyball, debunking the sports maxim that high payrolls produce many pennants. A summer re-read: Robert M. Pirsig's 1974 book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Always, there are limits. On one wall of the president's office at Homewood is a bookcase, high, broad and full. The titles show well -- having been published, naturally, by the nation's oldest university press, Johns Hopkins. In the buildings off beyond lurk the many treatise-writing scholars and theorists, the investigators (into electronic voting) and the doctoral-dissertation flagellants, the putative Great American Novel authors, some with publisher contracts. Throughout the long working day, piles and piles of printouts reach the presidents office. Holy smokes, do they expect a man to read everything?

ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL

By Lenny Moore with Jeffrey Jay Ellish. Sports Publishing LLC. 203 pages.

Lenny Moore tells two stories, vividly, in his autobiography. One, of course, relives his 11 years as star split-end / flanker with the late Baltimore Colts -- from Rookie of the Year (1956) to Most Valuable Player in the National Football League (1964) and now Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Spats (he white-taped his football shoes) scored more touchdowns than Baltimore has skyscrapers.

For someone who wasn't there, in Memorial Stadium's halcyon autumns, the second story is less happy: race relations. Raised in Reading, Pa., and a scholarship athlete at Penn State, Moore early learned the disadvantages of being black. Even so, moving to Baltimore with its "white privilege" was a "baptism by fire." Nevertheless, Lenny Moore and his family are still here. At 70, he works for the state to counter juvenile delinquency, and says Baltimore has become "like a warm blanket."

ANNAPOLIS AUTUMN: LIFE, DEATH AND LITERATURE AT THE U.S. NAVAL ACADEMY

By Bruce Fleming. The New Press. 274 pages.

Sparta v. Athens is one of the many metaphors that have preoccupied Bruce Fleming during his 20 years of teaching Annapolis midshipmen. Action v. talk would be another; collectivism v. individualism. But his subject is literature, and in all too many poems, novels, and plays in today's world, things don't divide that simply. In the classroom, he strives to have the midshipmen think, not recite. Is the high command able to live with this? Fleming now goes public.

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