By Barbara Woshinsky
Originally published in the December 2017 issue of 1666 Coffman Newsletter
Gretchen Kreuter has resided at 1666 Coffman since 2004. She says about herself: “I’m an author, an historian, and a retired college president. I have two adult children. My daughter is at Penn and writes about things I don’t understand (linguistics and its many varieties); my son lives in Eagan and does things with computers that I barely grasp (on a good day).” We would add that Gretchen was an inspiring member of the Library Committee for many years. Two of her books are found on the authors shelf.
What books are on your nightstand now?
—None. I sometimes use the end of the day to look at reviews.
What influences your decision about which books to read?
--New York Times Book Reviews, especially good friends ‘recommendations, and I really like the new arrivals shelves in our library.
Is there a book you read as a child that was especially important to you?
—A book that started my interest in the natural world was Along Nature’s Highway. My mother gave it to me when I was four years old. It’s inscribed with the date: August 24, 1944.
What historians do you especially enjoy reading? What do you look for in a history book?
—I especially like the work of Doris Kearns Goodwin. (Sidelight: she was an assistant to Lyndon Johnson, who dictated to her while he sat on the toilet.) I also admire David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman. The author does not make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but he restores Truman to a humanity others have ignored.
You were the moderator of the Coffman Book Night for many years. Is there a moment you particularly remember?
—Thor Kommedahl, my predecessor, dealt with latecomers to Book Night by giving brief talks about esoteric subjects, for example, the history of the paper clip. Thor became a legend, and there were darn few latecomers.
Although you mostly read nonfiction, do you have a favorite novel or novelist?
—I am fond of the books of Anne Tyler and Anne Lamott.
What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?
—I have been reading David Sedaris because he is odd and witty. I’m writing a memoir which is not odd, but it is witty. Reviewers have suggested that he makes up some of his stuff but they forgive him for that. The temptation to make up things haunts memoir writers.
If you could require the President to read one book, what would it be?
—The President? Can he read?? I have an imaginary book for him: You Can Hike the Gobi Desert with No Water.
You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?
—Rachel Carson, Anne Tyler and Alexander McCall Smith. Perhaps I’d include Beatrix Potter, too. She’s so much more than Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck!
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