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Ring in the New Year with books


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.

I am so much in love with Swift's "Gulliver's Travels" that I keep a copy at home and in the office. It is full of delights and often helps me find enough distance from everyday problems to be at least a little amused by them. It is an especially useful guide to pretension and pomposity, in church, state, university, on the street, or at the banquet table.

Joseph R. L. Sterne

Editorial Page editor at The Sun. He has headed the opinions section for 24 years Before that, he worked as a local reporter, a foreign correspondent in London, Bonn and Africa for The Sun, ** and he worked in the newspaper's Washington bureau from 1960 to 1969.

The book I would like to see written would be a history of the Spanish-American War by David McCullough, author of that magnificent opus on the building of the Panama Canal, "The Path Between the Seas." Since the war was the precursor to the canal, and because McCullough is one of the best and best-known of contemporary historians, his work on an era he knows so well would be a great contribution. His treatment of McKinley and the pro-war/anti-war debate that raged during his administration would be illuminating one century later to an America that dominates the world it entered at that time.

The book that needs to be reissued in 1997 is Margaret Leech's great presidential biography, "In the Days of McKinley," first published in 1950 and reissued a couple of times since. In focusing on William McKinley, one of the more important and neglected of our second-tier presidents, Leech provided vivid glimpses of America as it was propelled and pushed itself onto the imperial world stage. The Spanish-American War, which erupted on McKinley's watch, projected American power into the Caribbean (Puerto Rico and Cuba) and across the Pacific (the Philippines). It was a forerunner to the building of the Panama Canal and to the U.S. entry into two world wars. While McKenley himself was not an especially forceful character, the times in which he lived give his administration a significance that is often neglected. He saw some of the dangers of imperialism, but also accepted the essential notion of "manifest destiny." Not least of his contributions was to make "that cowboy," Theodore Roosevelt, the vice president who succeeded him after he was assassinated in the early part of his second term. The coming year, 1997, will mark the centennial of McKinley's inauguration in March 1897.

Patricia Fanning

Science and medicine editor at The Sun. She joined the staff 11 years ago as the financial editor. She had previously worked at the Wall Street Journal, National Observer and Time-Life Books.

Richard Preston, author of "The Hot Zone," ought to take on neurologists whose research is penetrating the structural and chemical secrets of the brain. They are ripe for the writer who made the Ebola virus the villain of a laboratory page-turner and peered into the Hale Telescope with galaxy hunters in his newly reissued "First Light."

At mid-century, British writer Kingsley Amis came out with a withering depiction of a group of characters in post-World War II England whose posturing is equally hilarious and repugnant. I read "Lucky Jim" in the '60s, again in the '70s and once more in the '90s, finding ever fresh his dissection of hypocrisy and vapid lives.

Ron Chambers

Director of the Naval Institute Press.

I would like Hugh Thomas, author of "The Spanish Civil War," "Cuba: The Pursuit of Freedom" and "Armed Truce: The Beginning of the Cold War, 1945-46" to write a book on the last years of the Cold War. This book should tell us: Did the West win or did the Soviet system just fall of its own weight?

At a time when war is increasingly thought to be a matter of complete information, precision-guided weapons, and few casualties, Bernard Fall's "Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu" deserves serious attention. Among the important lessons to be gleaned from this powerful account of the 1954 defeat of a French army by the Viet Minh are that, in war, plans often go awry, technology doesn't always provide the winning edge, and combat is an exhausting, bloody and brutal affair.

William K. Marimow

Managing Editor of The Sun, he is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who worked as a reporter and editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer before coming to The Sun.

I would like to assign John McPhee to write about the life and times of former U.S. Sen. Bill Bradley, whom McPhee first profiled when Bradley was a freshman basketball star at Princeton University. Personally, I would love to see McPhee, who has been writing more about science and geology in recent years, once again train his reporting and writing skills on a person.

In my opinion, it would be worthwhile to revive Alexander Solzhenitsyn's "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," which was first published in 1963. I believe that its theme - which is the incalculable importance of freedom to live and flourish - is a vital reminder for people of every generation and background.

M. Dion Thompson

A features writer at The Sun, he was assistant bureau chief in the Anne Arundel bureau. He has also worked at the Miami Herald.

I would choose Salman Rushdie to write a novel about contemporary America. The book should show our country's diversity, breadth and history. It also should, through humor, wit and insight, give us cause to feel less animosity toward each other.

Jean Toomer's "Cane" deserves a dose of attention. In its lyricism and poetry, it offers a unique look at America and stands apart from other works of the Harlem Renaissance. Also, "Cane" is a great way to enjoy the beauty and magic of language.

Peter Yuill

Features designer at The Sun, he has worked as a designer and illustrator for newspapers and magazines for 14 years.

If Eugene O'Neil were still alive he could update "Long Day's Journey into Night" for the '90's. Replacing morphine with Prozac, tuberculosis with AIDS, booze with Internet gambling and acting with a seat in local government. Updating this work would focus attention on our actions in a world that, as we approach a new millennium, always looks to escape personal accountability.

Before the fabricated decadence of rock stars, rappers, Las Vegas and talkshows. Before the conquests of the beat poets, Timothy Leary, Ronald Reagan, bond trader Michael Milken and singer Madonna there was Henry Miller, providing truly inspired decadence. Bored with Disney, Bill Moyers, William Bennett and Faith Popcorn? Check out the oh so un-P.C. "Tropic of Cancer."

Ben Neihart

Novelist and free-lance fiction writer, he is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars. His "Hey Joe" was published by Simon and Schuster in April.

tTC I'd assign Flannery O'Connor to write a novel concerning New Age spirituality. I want her to cast her stark comic eye on the search for religious meaning in contemporary America.

"A Flag for Sunrise" by Robert Stone. This profound, intelligent, beautiful, tragic novel continues to resonate. One of the greatest works of literature of the 20th century.

Marc Steiner

Host of "The Marc Steiner Show" on WJHU-FM, National Public Radio.

George Orwell should come back and evaluate his post-1984 world. To have Orwell reflect on the powers of the marketplace and the state and the collapse of the Soviet state. To look at the question of freedom and definition of personality as defined by the state and the marketplace.

To have Steinbeck and Ellison come back as they were in their 30s to look at the state of America today through the eyes of their mid-age experience in the context of today's reality.

Victoria Brownworth

Author and free-lance writer, her most recent book is "Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life."

Anna Quindlen with Bob Woodward, an investigative $ 1/8 documentation of the exploitation of child labor.

This book would pay more than lip service to the issue by examining it in depth, determining its human costs, putting individual faces on the problem and suggesting strategies for change that are both feasible and actionable by both individuals and governments.

"Silent Spring," by Rachel Carson. This book that spawned the ecology movement remains one of the most vital documents and warnings regarding our relationship to nature and the Earth. As the rates of cancer, childhood death from asthma and various other ecology-related diseases increase; as the winnowing away the rainforests releases ever-new and more terrible hot-zone viruses such as AIDS and Ebola; as developing countries raze forests and pollute their only sources of water; and the ozone layer continues to deteriorate, Carson's and her science deserve a major revivalist look.

Paul West

The Sun's Washington bureau chief. Before joining the paper in 1985, he was a reporter for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and the Dallas Times Herald.

Shakespeare! Thou should'st be living at this hour: England, and the world, hath need of a new historical play. About the House of Windsor (a farce, of course).

The "American Heritage Illustrated History of the Civil War," with narrative by Bruce Catton (published in 1960 and just reissued in a sumptuous new edition). In many ways the best single-volume history of the war, which teaches that America's destiny hasn't always been as manifest as Americans like to think. Get the story.

Pub Date: 12/28/96

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