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!
By Carol Van Why
Thor Kommedahl was one of the Coffman pioneers. He spent his career in the Department of Plant Pathology on the St. Paul Campus. At Coffman he was a longtime member of the Library Committee and could be called The Father of Book Night.
In Thor’s memory, the Library Committee purchased Seeds on Ice: Svalbard and the Global Seed Vault by Cory Fowler. Highly illustrated and very readable, it’s a book that chronicles efforts to store and preserve for humanity, seeds of the world’s food crops on a remote, Norwegian island 810 miles from the North Pole. It’s hard to imagine a better book to recognize someone who was intensely proud of his Norwegian heritage and whose career was devoted to the health and betterment of maize, one of the world’s most important crops. Find this book in the Library’s Science/Technology/Math section.
We thought we knew all about the accomplished Gretchen Kreuter. She has been a professor of history, college administrator and author. At Coffman she’s served on the Board of Directors, the Library Committee and more. Then, filling some big shoes, she became Book Night’s convener when Thor Kommedahl resigned. It wasn’t until one Sunday afternoon when Gretchen shared a portion of a memoir in progress with some lucky residents, that many of us learned she was an artist as well.
The Library Committee was happy to add Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature by Linda Lear to the Library’s collection in honor of Gretchen Kreuter. Find this book in the Library’s Biography section.
By Carol Van Why
It’s always been the Library Committee’s goal at any given time to have something new for every reading taste in the Coffman Library. For the next month or so look for the books below on the Library’s Recent Arrival shelves. Thereafter you’ll find them shelved in their permanent locations throughout the Library.
By Carol Van Why
When I compare our collection of science-themed books with various published “Best of” lists, I’m always surprised to find that our Library collection contains many notable books.
Most of the science books are on the upper level, west side of the library. Browse the shelves labeled SCIENCE/TECH/MATH; NATURE/ENVIRONMENT; NATURE WRITING. We’ve tried to make it even easier to find a good book by marking our favorite titles with green, 166SIX PICKS labels. One recent and excellent book in this area of the library is Dava Sobel’s Glass Universe: How Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars.
But don’t confine your explorations to the upper level. There are a number of excellent scientific biographies in the BIOGRAPHY section on the lower level. In this section we arrange the books according to the subject of the book (e.g., Einstein, Watson). Biographies about more than one individual are shelved nearby in BIOGRAPHY COLLECTIONS. Look for Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures in this section.
We add books to the collection frequently so make a point of regularly checking our Recent Arrivals shelves on the lower level. New there this week are Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s new one–Astrophysics for People in a Hurry–and Scientist as Rebel by Freeman Dyson.
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