Archive for Sunday, June 6, 1999


June 6, 1999


A compliment by a Lawrence dentist results in a Lawrence High School literary tradition.

Six years ago, Lawrence High School librarian Martha Oldham went to visit dentist John Hay. While Hay was interested in what was inside Oldham's mouth, she was tuned in to the words coming out of his.

"Martha had displayed a list of a few books from the high school football coach," he said. "I told her it was a great idea during her dental visit. I said, if a coach reads, it shows there's more to his life than sports.

"I must have said something to her about it being a great project that could span the community. " I filled out a list for her and the next thing I knew a booklet was published and my list was in the front giving me credit (for the project)."

The project, now a tradition at LHS, is a spiral-bound booklet called "Personal Best," a compilation of favorite-book lists received from politicians, actors, TV celebrities, authors, sports figures and other local and national notables.

The project brings together such unlikely people as conservative politician Newt Gingrich and Vernon Jordan, a close friend of President Bill Clinton; comedian-actor Jim Belushi and straight-laced commentator George Will; and cosmetics mogul Mary Kay and U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno.

Hay's list does, indeed, preface the book. On his list are "The Sun Also Rises," by Ernest Hemingway; "Life on the Road," by Charles Kuralt; "Fatherhood," by Bill Cosby; "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee; "We Were Soldiers Once " and Young," by Harold G. Moore; anything by John Grisham; and "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," by Dr. Seuss.

Hay says he and his wife, Megan, are avid readers and have tried to instill that habit in their four children -- Dylan, 11; Jillian, 9; and Landon and Chloe, 5-year-old twins. Megan has an early childhood education background and has taught in private and public schools.

"She has been diligent in reading with them," he said. "She's a hero in reading."

Over the years, Hay has read a variety of material, from helpful professional journals to entertaining fiction, and likes to be reading two or three books at the same time. Recently, he was working on "Men at Work," a baseball book by George Will, and "The Horse Encyclopedia" (he and his wife recently bought a farm and he is thinking about buying a horse or two).

Ask Hay why reading is important and he quickly answers.

"It brings knowledge, first of all," he said. "I tell my kids that anything they want to do in this world they can do because someone has written a book on it and they can educate themselves.

"It's wholesome escapism and can get you out of the daily bombardment of information. And it can bring people together for a shared experience."

Here are some of the responses by those included in the 1998-'99 edition of "Personal Best":

James Belushi, actor

  • "The Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger
  • "Mother Night," by Kurt Vonnegut
  • "The Godfather," by Mario Puzo
  • "Slaughterhouse Five," by Kurt Vonnegut
  • "Conversations with God," by Neale Donald Walsch

Belushi says reading is important to him because it "breaks you free from life's low spots."

Joseph Bruchac III, writer

  • "Things Fall Apart," by Chinua Achebe
  • "Way to Rainy Mountain," by N. Scott Momaday
  • "Narrow Road to the Deep North and Other Travel Sketches," by Basho Matsuo
  • "Branch Will Not Break," by James Wright
  • "Tuck Everlasting," by Natalie Babbitt

Bruchac says reading "both widens my world and focuses my eyes as it fills my heart."

Art Buchwald, humorist

  • "The Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger
  • "Grapes of Wrath," by John Steinbeck
  • "Candide," by Voltaire
  • "Of Mice and Men," by John Steinbeck
  • "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain

"As a child, (reading) was my way of escaping an unhappy childhood," Buchwald said. "To this day, I never throw books away."

Barbara Bush, former first lady

  • Jane Austen's books
  • "Vanity Fair," by William Makepeace Thackary
  • "The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother," by James McBride
  • "Light a Penny Candle," by Maeve Binchy

"Reading opens doors to new worlds," she said, " " whether it is a world of ideas or places. It opens my mind and I read for pleasure and to relax."

Roger Ebert, film critic

  • "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain
  • "Look Homeward, Angel," by Thomas Wolfe
  • "The Catcher in the Rye," by J.D. Salinger
  • "My Antonia," by Willa Cather
  • "David Copperfield," by Charles Dickens

"Reading is important to me," Ebert said, "because I can spend private time with a writer."

Dick Enberg, commentator for ABC's "Wide World of Sports"

  • "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," by Jean-Dominique Bauby
  • "The Little Prince," Antoine De Saint-Exupery
  • "Treasure Island," by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "Fatherhood," by Bill Cosby
  • "The Tumult and Shouting," by Grandland Rice

Reading, Enberg said, "stretches my horizons, allowing me to visit distant places and people."

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives

  • "The Federalist Papers," by Alexander Hamilton
  • "Democracy in America," by Alexis De Tocqueville
  • "The Effective Executive," by Peter F. Drucker
  • "The Tragedy of American Compassion," by Marvin N. Olasky
  • "Creating a New Civilization: The Politics of the Third Wave," by Alvin Toffler

" " I cannot stress enough how vital reading is to a strong education," Gingrich said. "My political beliefs and goals were greatly inspired by some of the great books I have read in my lifetime."

Nikki Giovanni, author and poet

  • "Old Mother West Wind" series, by Thornton W. Burgess
  • "A Child's Garden of Verses," by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • "The First Book of Jazz," by Langston Hughes
  • "The Bluest Eye," by Toni Morrison
  • "Mama Day," by Gloria Naylor

"Sometimes I like to be alone and think about books," Giovanni said. "Let me be alone with a wonderful author and think brave, new thoughts."

Bill Graves, governor of Kansas

  • "Babbitt," by Sinclair Lewis
  • "Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History," by William Safire
  • "Eisenhower," by Stephen Ambrose
  • "Woodrow Wilson," by August Heckscher
  • "The Civil War," by Shelby Foote
  • Anything by Ken Follett and Robert Ludlum.

Robert Hemenway, chancellor at Kansas University

  • King James Bible
  • "Absalom, Absalom," by William Faulkner
  • "Their Eyes Were Watching God," by Zora Neale Hurston
  • "Invisible Man," by Ralph Ellison
  • "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave," by Frederick Douglass

"(Reading) creates experience and understanding which one does not have to live through to experience," Hemenway said.

Vernon Jordan, lawyer and friend of President Bill Clinton

  • "The Souls of Black Folk," by W.E.B. Dubois
  • "Up from Slavery," by Booker T. Washington
  • "From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans," by John Hope Franklin
  • "Invisible Man," Ralph Ellison
  • "The Fire Next Time," by James Baldwin

Joseph Kennedy, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts

  • "The Lion of Ireland," by Morgan Llywelyn
  • "Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage," by Alfred Lansing

"Books teach us about the past, about human character and provide guidance about where we ought to go," Kennedy said.

Bebe Neuwirth, Tony Award-winning actress-dancer

  • "Song of Solomon," by Toni Morrison
  • "One Hundred Years of Solitude," by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • "The Sea of Fertility" tetrology, by Yukio Mishima
  • "Beloved," Toni Morrison
  • "Call of the Wild," by Jack London

"Reading is important to me," Neuwirth said, "because it's inspiring, private and takes a person to experiences outside their own -- to people, to histories outside their own, thereby expanding our own compassion and imagination."

George Will, commentator for ABC television

  • "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain
  • "All the King's Men," by Robert Penn Warren
  • "Advice and Consent," by Allen Drury
  • "The Red Badge of Courage," by Stephen Crane
  • "Killer Angels," by Michael Shaara
  • "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Harper Lee
  • "Bang the Drum Slowly," by Mark Harris
  • "O Pioneers," by Willa Cather
  • "Fields of Fire," by James Webb
  • "Snow Falling on Cedars," by David Gutterson
  • "Lonesome Dove," by Larry McMurty
  • "Remembrance Rock," by Carl Sandburg

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