Interests

When I'm not teaching, writing, or doing research, I enjoy reading, running, and listening to (and collecting) music.

Reading

I read lots of different stuff, but my favorite writers are: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogol, Milan Kundera, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, Mark Helprin, and Wendell Berry.  I belong to Goodreads, which is like Facebook for readers.  Here is a list of what I have been reading lately on Goodreads.  I have been recording my reading on Goodreads since 2006.  I also try to post a report there on each book I read, usually from a personal angle.

I own lots of books (at home and at the office) and CDs.  In this age when books are available digitally and music through streaming, why do I own all this stuff?  My son Nick could move his book and music collection in his pocket, while it would take a U-Haul truck to move all mine.  Here is my op-ed reflection in 2014 on that question: "Me and my books" 

I worked for about 6 years as an editor on a new English translation of the Czech novel, The Fateful Adventures of the Good Soldier Švejk, by Jaroslav Hašek. The translator is Zenny Sadlon. I only found out about the project after Book 1 of the translation was published, but I assisted with Book 2, and with Books 3 & 4.  I wrote an Afterword for the translation, reflecting on our challenges and purposes in doing the translation.  It didn't get published with the book after all, but I posted it as an Amazon review of Book 2 ("Notes on a new translation..."), and I have posted it here

In the course of working on the Švejk translation, I got to know more about the author Jaroslav Hašek (1883-1923) and his family.  Hašek was born into poor circumstances in Prague.  Here is a small bust over the entryway to the apartment building on Školská street where he was born.  It was unihabited when I took this picture in 2004. 

I also visited the village Lipnice nad Sázavou where Hašek lived the last few years of his life. He boarded in a hotel there while he wrote the last books of his Švejk novel.  His descendants have purchased that hotel--the Czech Crown Inn--and now run it.  I ate there and got to know his two great-grandchildren, Martin and Petra:

There is a granite statue of Hašek in Lipnice that has been there for many years.  The notable thing about it is that the face does not at all resemble Hašek, but rather Klement Gottwald, the general secretary of the communist party in Czechoslovakia until his death in 1953!  It must have been erected by the state.  Fortunately a new bronze statue of Hašek was unveiled in 2008 that actually resembles him.  I saw this when I visited again in 2009.  And here is a picture of me visiting Hašek's grave, also in Lipnice.  You can see the beer bottle on the grave--Krušovice.  Martin visits the grave every day and places a fresh bottle there.  I asked Martin whether he had inherited any desire or ability to write from his great-grandfather, and Martin said the only thing he inherited from him was his enjoyment of drinking.  Beside being an innkeeper, Martin is also a musician in a rock band.  

Though I worked on the Švejk translation for some 6 years, I never met the translator himself, Zenny Sadlon, until we were nearly finished.  We worked only by e-mail.  But I came to a philosophy convention in Chicago in April 2006 and finally we met at Klas, a Czech restaurant in Cicero, to celebrate the completion of our project.  I left a copy of the translation with the Hašeks at the Czech Crown Inn in 2009.    

 

Music

I like lots of different stuff, but my favorite performer is Bob Dylan.  When he was named the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, I was rather surprised.  A small conference was organized here at VT the following spring to celebrate his award, and I gave a short talk.  Here is my speech from that occasion.  

I have seen Bob live 6 times. In Blacksburg at Cassell Coliseum in December, 1989, with G.E. Smith leading his back-up band. That was good. In April, 1993 at Radford. That was abysmal. In November, 1994 in Roanoke, which was good (and was my second date with Kathy). In Burruss Hall at Virginia Tech on April 29, 2001. That was a great concert, and you can read my review of it. On June 9, 2004, Nick and I saw him perform in Salem. It was another very good concert, which I also reviewed. Then there was an OK show at the Salem minor-league ballpark on June 10, 2005, reviewed here.  That was the last concert I went to, and I stopped collecting bootlegs of his recent concerts not long after.  I just can't abide his live performances any more.  

Bob never lived down to our expectations of him, and that is what I like most about him. I also like Neil Young a lot for that reason. My appreciation of both of these performers was most enhanced by reading books about them by Paul Williams. Especially, Bob Dylan: Performing Artist, The Middle Years (1974–1986). This book also turned me on to finding bootleg CDs of Dylan concerts and unreleased studio work, from 1960 through the present. I have hundreds of these, and it can be an addiction. Here are my reflections on Bootlegging Bob.  And here is a review of the book that essay appeared in which focuses on my paper.  

My other musical love is the blues--Chicago blues and Delta blues.  I was turned on to the blues by my college roommate.  In 2012 I gave a sermon on "Confessing the Blues," which contains my reflections on spirituality and the blues.  

Running

I have run many marathons (17 so far), and I ran most of a 50-mile ultra-marathon.  In 2009 I gave a sermon on "While We Run This Race," which contains my reflections on spirituality and running a marathon, and how it feels to run a marathon.  

I have been running since 1991, and running marathons (26.2 miles) since 2000. After having run 8 marathons, and realizing I wasn't going to be getting (much) faster, I decided to try something longer instead. Anything longer than a marathon is called an ultra-marathon. They generally are 50K, 50 miles, 100K, or 100 miles. I went for 50 miles.

I ran the Bull Run Run, on April 8, 2006. My long-time friend Bob and I ran it together. Unfortunately it rained all night before and all day of the race. We were dropped from the race after 28.1 miles and 7:25 because we missed the cut-off for that point by 10 minutes. Oh, well. We may try again if we find an ultra-marathon road race! I was prepared to run 50 miles, but I was not prepared to slog 50 miles through the mud!  I have to say that the other runners, who finished 50 miles in the cold rain and mud, were a whole different level of consciousness from me!  Here I am changing shoes at about mile 18—so far, so good:

All of my official race results are recorded here at Athlinks.

I take my inspiration as a runner from the legendary Czech runner Emil Zátopek, who won gold medals in the 1952 Olympics in the 5K, 10K, and Marathon races. That is unequalled in long-distance running. It was his first marathon! Here is a clip of the finish of his 5K race. He is #903.

Friends

I recently completed a memoir of my dear friend, Bob.  I have been friends with Bob since 8th grade (in 1968).  In 2012 he contracted severe epilepsy, and I wrote this memoir when he was in an induced coma and we didn't know if he would live.  

Bob and me: 1982 at UCLA, and 2015 at the Potter's House in Washington DC.

 

Photos