• Poly Prep

Audrius Barzdukas’ Reading List 2018

In his State of the School address, Head of School Audrius Barzdukas P’20 shared his reading list. We thought you might be interested and enjoy his recommendations.
“Every summer, I seek understanding, knowledge, and pleasure in reading. I am of that generation that reads for fun,” said Barzdukas. “I love it and it brings me back to my youth when my mother started her librarian career as my elementary school librarian at St. Philip’s Catholic school.”  

Here are Barzdukas’ comments about his reading list:

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. An epic historical novel about generations of Koreans navigating lives, cultural differences, and chaos between Japan and Korea. The book opens, “History has failed us, but no matter.” Indeed. Honest writing about truth and wonder, enlightenment and disappointment, humanity and what shapes it.
The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin by Masha Gessen. A ruthless bureaucrat rises to power by creating an elite class of kleptocrats who strip Russia of just about any asset that can be stolen. Is history repeating itself?
Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Area X is a mysterious impenetrable jungle region where expeditions go mad, whose members kill one another or, maybe worse, return utterly insane. I wish the novel itself had been a little more penetrable.
Falconer by John Cheever. Cheever, the bard of suburban ennui, writes a prison novel? Okay—we get an imprisoned methadone addict wrestling with his memories, the passage of time, and finding fulfilling love with another inmate. Brilliant prose, brilliant examination of the mental games we play to make life bearable.
Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perotta. Recent divorcee Eve Fletcher sends her entitled narcissist son off to college. The empty nest, the boredom, the search for belonging leads her to online porn. What could go wrong?
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Count Vrostov is sentenced to house arrest for life in Moscow’s Hotel Metropol. That sounds boring—wrong.  It’s clever, it’s enlightening, it’s writing that makes me envious.
Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt. A truly horrifying account of how evil can twist bureaucratic systems to justify inhuman, unspeakable ends. A chilling warning and call for vigilance.
Draft No.4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee. McPhee can write about oranges, long haul truckers, Alaska, basically anything and make it compelling reading. His writing process—“geographic” is a word that comes to mind—is his own, and his book inspires us to make our lives our own.
My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf. A graphic novel about the painful and tragic alienation experienced in high school by one of history’s most notorious serial killers. How do we see and reach those kids who so desperately need help?
The Force by Don Winslow. It seems like I report reading one of Winslow’s crime procedurals every year. Same report as last year: trash, you can’t put it down.
Redeployment by Phil Klay. The All Quiet on the Western Front of the Iraq War. Why? Why are we doing this? Why are people shooting at us? Why does violence change us so? Well-written, sad.

While Barzdukas and his family were in Portugal visiting family, many asked about current politics in the United States. Barzdukas told them, “America is searching for truth right now.”

These questions led him to read two other works:

The Constitution of the United States. A document devoted to empowering citizens to pursue well-lived lives by establishing checks and balances on power, checks and balances on representation, checking and balancing the “freedom to” with the “freedom from.” Fascinating reading. 
Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 by Pauline Maier. A dense history of how our nation’s founders defied instructions (They were sent to fix the Articles of Confederation.) to craft a form of government unlike any other on earth and the incredible, nearly overwhelming, challenges of getting people to buy into that government. Rhode Island just said, “No.” New York said, “We’re better than the rest of you.” New Jersey held its ratification congress in a bar and got unanimous consent after a few rounds of ale. Of course, New Jersey did that.

The ratification process was contentious. The colonies had just ended a monarchical relationship and were in no hurry to enter into another one. And the colonies had feedback for the framers. Patrick Henry thought that beginning the document with “We, the States” rather than “We, the People” more appropriately defined the source of power for the United States. The original draft did not include a Bill of Rights, which many believed it needed to ground it in universally accepted values. Almost everyone thought that the first draft needed amending, but it would never have been ratified if 13 colonies had submitted amendments independently.

Reading Maier’s book made me think about feedback and how it helps shape things like constitutions, like schools, like the pursuit of truth and learning.
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