Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Don Mills' required reading

Donald B. Mills ’72 (MDiv) doesn’t mind the occasional trashy read.

“I remember finding my father’s copy of Peyton Place tucked under his bureau,” said Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs. “He’d go to work and I’d sneak in and read it.”

And while he still loves to take the latest John Grisham novel along on trips, he prefers to savor works awarded literature’s top prizes – the Pullitzer, Man Booker or Nobel.

“I like to read award-winning books because someone else has done the hard work of deciding what’s really good,” said Mills, who detailed his favorite books in a lunchtime chat Wednesday with faculty and staff.

He revealed seven of his top reads including three novels and four non-fiction works. Here’s his list:

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
“I read this book when I was 18 years old. It was the first time I’d read something serious by a serious author. I was overwhelmed by the language that was used. I liked Franny better than Zooey, in part because she’s nuts, but also because Franny is on a quest to be a pilgrim and when you’re 18 years old, starting your life’s journey, you’re on a quest. You want to make sure your life is an important life.”

The Shipping News By Annie Proulx
“It’s a beautifully written book, and very funny too in some ways, about a guy who goes to the most depressing, desolate place you can imagine – Nova Scotia. By the end of the book, I wanted to go to Nova Scotia too. I wanted to see that cold, rocky place. He’s basically a big loser but he goes there and meets a ton of interesting characters and finds himself.”

The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
“It’s about a father who is losing his mind to senility and a mother who is trying to hold the family together. It has to do with how our lives are never what they look like to the outside.
It’s not for the squeamish, there’s some bizarre stuff in there, but I loved the language and how it talks about relationships. At least I can say I’m not as nuts as these people.”

Hot, Flat and Crowded by Thomas Friedman
“He monitors what’s going on around the world and what we need to do about it. Read this book and look at some of the proposals that have come out of the Obama administration on health care and energy and you’ll see similarities.”

Nixonland by Rick Perlstein
“It’s a history of the United States organized around the rise of Richard Nixon, ending before Watergate. It’s basically a history of the United States while I was growing up. The material is important reading for all of us because it shows how cynical Nixon was in going about getting elected in 1968 – how he separated the United States into different groups. Nixon started the whole process of putting people into a box and demonizing them.”

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
“He’s able to take other people’s insights and make them make sense. We used this book to understand students and how to get them going in a certain direction. For example, if we want to get students to use the library 24 hours a day, and we do, who do we have to talk to in our student body to make that happen.”

Collapse: How Societies Chose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond
“He talks about how societies make conscious decisions they know are bad and will cause the society to collapse. For example, the Vikings moved from Scandinavia to Greenland and planted the same crops even though they wouldn’t grow in Greenland.
We know polluting the air and polluting the ground will have bad effects, but we do it anyway.”

Asked what types of book he’d like to write, Mills said, “If I was writing for fun, I’d write a book of poetry. I’m not a good writer. I can get about 25 lines in iambic pentameter, then I become e.e. cummings.”

What if he were to tackle non-fiction?

“I’d like to examine how you sustain a community, a group of people like a church congregation or a university. How does TCU sustain itself and make a difference? Is it facilities? It is how the people gather together and interact? Is it guided by the founding principles? These are important questions. I think about them a lot and if I come up with any answers, I’ll write about it.”

And we’ll be reading.

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