What Champaign-Urbana Is Reading: Book Picks from Your Neighbors (2007-2008)

Here are more book recommendations from CU neighbors.

Rocky Maffit

Rocky Maffit recommends
Chronicles: Volume One

Leave it to Bob Dylan to write a book that is non-linear, elliptical, and essential. One of the greatest lyricists of all time has given us a lyrical memoir. His prose is unforced and plain spoken — more “Forever Young” than “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” These are scenes of a life’s journey presented out of time. And what a life! Is it all true? Not sure. But it is real.

I read this book when it was first published in a hardcover edition. My next experience with it was listening to Sean Penn read it on my iPod. My third was hearing random chapters as my iPod “shuffled” through my song playlist — a case of current technology in harmony with the non-sequential intentions of the writer. I think Bob would like that.

I eagerly await Volume Two.

Rocky Maffit
Musician and Author

Kimiko Gunji

Kimiko Gunji recommends
Tuesdays with Morrie

Tuedays with Morrie by Mitch Albom highlights two ideals I try to live by and would like to share with you: one is to live life positively and humanely, the other is to be as good a teacher as you can be. Every semester I hope I can inspire my students even one tenth of what Morrie did for Mitch. We can certainly live our lives complaining constantly, or we can live positively and happily. The choice is ours. This book describes how Morrie, who is at the end of his life and has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), lives with dignity, courage, humor, and composure. His questions to all of us are the fundamental questions of a happy and meaningful life... “Have you found someone to share your heart with? Are you giving to your community? Are you at peace with yourself? Are you trying to be as human as you can be?” These are the questions I ask myself from time to time. I find my answers are not always “YES,” but I am constantly striving for “YES” to be my answer. Tuesdays with Morrie is a truly moving and inspirational book I recommend for any age group.

Kimiko Gunji
Former Director of Japan House
Associate Professor of Art & Design
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Phil Bloomer

Phil Bloomer recommends
The Golden Age

The Golden Age by Kenneth Grahame is one of the overlooked masterpieces of all time and has sat on the bookshelf by my bed most of my adult life. After sifting through policy papers and listening to the benumbing drone of bureaucrats and politicians much of each day, it is always refreshing to read Grahame. In The Golden Age, he writes from a child’s perspective with elegant clarity and wit to describe the folly of the adult world and the unquestionable superiority of children — the “illuminati.”

Phil Bloomer
Press Secretary
Hon. Rep. Timothy V. Johnson

Anna Maria Watkin

Anna Maria Watkin recommends
Omnivore’s Dilemma

Choosing one favorite book is an almost impossible task as there are always so many that pop to mind when asked this question. There is one however that made a lasting impression on me and brought about an awareness so sharp that the way I shop for and think about food will never be quite the same again.

With eye-opening insight and observation, Michael Pollan asks “What shall we have for dinner?” and follows three food chains as they wind their way to our tables. His sharp and well researched observations brought home the importance of eating locally produced food, supporting local food suppliers, the physical and economical benefits of eating in season, and the resulting effects on our environment, economy, and spirit, when we choose not to. This is a fascinating book that broadened my knowledge of food production in America and changed my approach to how I shop for the food that goes on my plate.

Anna Maria Watkin
Parkland College Library

Jim Dey

Jim Dey recommends
The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey

These days when American presidents leave office, they can look forward to a life of wealth and prestige, hardly ever breaking a sweat and secure in a cocoon guaranteeing their personal safety. But circumstances were different in 1914 when former President Theodore Roosevelt, looking for a physical challenge after running unsuccessfully for president on the Progressive Party ticket two years earlier, decided to tour South America and explore an uncharted river running through the Amazon jungle in Brazil. The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard tells the story of Roosevelt’s adventure, how it almost cost him his life and certainly shortened it. It is a tale of amazing hardship and relentless determination, mostly because Roosevelt and his son, Kermit, and a team of professional explorers made up of American and Brazilians bit off more than they could chew. Rather than pursue a more mundane and safer exploration, Roosevelt opted to lead his crew down the uncharted “River of Doubt.” It turned out to be roughly 1,000 miles in length and its discovery is reported to have changed the map of the Western hemisphere. But it was hardly a matter of hopping in a canoe and floating down the river. There were cruel rapids that forced the men to get out of the water and carry their gear and provisions over long and rough terrain. Indians lived in the Amazon jungle, and TR’s crew survived only because they chose to stay out of sight rather than kill and rob the strangers in their midst. It was an agonizing journey. One man drowned on the trip. Another was murdered. Roosevelt and his men were near starvation. So sick and injured was Roosevelt that he contemplated suicide so as not to slow down and thereby jeopardize the lives of his fellow travelers. But Kermit Roosevelt wouldn’t hear of it, so TR soldiered on in the belief that only by living himself could he save his son’s life. TR lived a long and rich life, so much so that he’s a biographer’s delight. But this surely was his most harrowing adventure, proof both of his indomitable character and his unquenchable appetite for adventure in the outdoors.

Jim Dey
Columnist and Editorial Writer
The News-Gazette

Paula Kaufman

Paula Kaufman recommends
Scholarship in the Digital Age: Information, Infrastructure, and the Internet

I live in the world of scholarship and research, a world that information technology is making increasingly complex. Today, scholars, students, librarians, and others are at a crossroad as we confront the next generation of information technology that is reconfiguring how we do our work. But, in her important new book, Christine Borgman helps us focus on many of the most important and pressing issues we face. She describes the roles that information technology plays in the research process, contrasting them with the system of scholarly communication based on publishing in traditional forms such as books and journals and identifying the interplay between technical and social issues. Her rich and insightful analysis speaks to everyone who is concerned about the interaction of legal, economic, social, and political concerns, which ultimately will be more important in shaping the future than technical ones.

Paula Kaufman
University Librarian and Dean of Libraries
University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Jan Kiley

Jan Kiley recommends
Crocodile on the Sandbank

My recommendation is not a book, but a series of books, the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Start with Crocodile on the Sandbank and wander through recent history--beginning, as the stories do, in the late 1880s up to post-World War I. Elizabeth Peters, her pseudonym, is an Illinoisan by birth and holds a PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago. The books are historically accurate and contain humor, mystery, and an array of emotions recorded in appropriate and natural ways. Peters spins a good tale and transports readers (or listeners) to a faraway place in both distant and current times. Plan to be snookered by this storyteller and grateful for the 15-plus books in the series.

Jan Kiley
President, Research Survey Service, Inc.

Tom Ramage

Tom Ramage recommends
The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology

I have read both of Ray Kurzweil‘s books — The Age of the Spiritual Machine and this one. I am fascinated by the science behind predictions resulting from accelerating progress in the exploration of computer science/artificial intelligence, genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.

The “singularity” (a reference to the theoretical limitlessness of expansion) is an event that is expected to occur because of accelerating trends in terms of miniaturization and computational power. Eventually, smallness and speed reach a point of development with implications that are astounding. Whether you buy into the theory or not, it is an interesting glimpse into a potential future that may not be too far away.

Tom Ramage
President, Parkland College

Wade Hampton

Wade Hampton recommends
The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive

The book I would recommend is The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive written by Patrick Lencioni. I found it to be quite applicable to my role as the CEO of the YMCA. The book focuses on four clear disciplines needed to run an organization at peak performance. The writer wraps the story around the competition of two CEOs and what drives one to success and the other to envy.

Wade Hampton
Resource Director, YMCA of the USA National Office
Former CEO, Champaign County YMCA

Shirley Faughn

Shirley Faughn recommends
What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

As an executive coach and management consultant I was intrigued to read this book by Marshall Goldsmith, arguably one of the most respected executive coaches in the world. Insightful and thought provoking, it addresses twenty fundamental behaviors that hold successful leaders back. It also offers practical solutions that can be implemented immediately. For example, the idea of writing thank you notes to all those in your life, past and present, who are most responsible for your success so inspired me and my business partners, that we are in the midst of doing just that. The letters we have written have been responded to with affirmation and renewed connections. I found the book’s ideas to be practical and the results to be encouraging. It is a must-read for every leader!

Shirley Faughn, PhD
Co-Founder, The Aslan Group

Dr. James Leonard

Dr. James Leonard recommends
Walking on Eggshells: Navigating the Delicate Relationsip Between Adult Children and Their Parents

Don’t be fooled; this is not a “how-to-raise-kids” manual. Using an interview and story format, author Jane Isay provides simple but helpful insights about the tough relationship issues between parents and their children as roles change with time. Isay provides helpful anecdotes no matter which role one plays, recognizing the different needs and demands of both grown children and aging parents. Obviously the book cannot address all of the possible permutations that each family might have, but she does a solid job of looking at the most common issues. What I particularly appreciate is that she provides an element of hope and forgiveness no matter how mangled the relationship.

Dr. James Leonard
CEO, Carle Foundation Hospital

J. Bryant Evans

J. Bryant Evans recommends
Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World

Author Mark Kurlansky has a knack for weaving historical narratives around things — in this case the cod. Throw a cod in a kettle, add a pound of Euro-American colonialism, season lightly with chaos theory, and there it is: a new perspective on 1,000 years of world history.

This kind of book helps us understand how little things matter, perhaps more so than queens and kings. I recommend this book and other similar histories by Kurlansky because the cause-and-effect lessons are meaningful for anyone interested in making the world a better place.

J. Bryant Evans
Portfolio Manager, Cozad Asset Management

Armondo de Marcos

Armondo de Marcos recommends
Rich Dad, Poor Dad

I began reading this book for several reasons. The most important one involves two lovely girls to whom I am step-dad. When it was time to start giving them an allowance, I wanted to be able to give them a good head start on being responsible with their money. That was several years ago and although it was a challenge then, they thank me for it now. Every parent/guardian who gives their children money should read this book and have them read it when they are old enough.

Armondo de Marcos
President/CEO, Champaign County Black Chamber of Commerce

Judy Fraser

Judy Fraser recommends
The Legend of Bagger Vance

“If someone asked me what my hobby is or what I like to do in my ‘downtime,’ my answer would always be…reading. My appetite for books is voracious — and my palate is varied, from fiction to nonfiction, professional, motivational, self-improvement…I love it all. But, I felt I needed to expand ‘my horizon’ so I took up the sport of golf, originally because of my husband’s love for it. I found it to be challenging, perplexing, and frustrating but always with a hint of pleasure in achievement.

A friend of mine lent me a book that she said I had to read, The Legend of Bagger Vance, by Steven Pressfield. What an impressive book, certainly about the intricacies of golf, but in many respects...life. According to the legendary Bagger Vance, ‘We all have an authentic swing (or self) that is ours alone. In golf as in life we chip away at what is inauthentic allowing our pure swing (or self) to be revealed.’ The search for this authentic swing parallels the search for who we really are, how we view life, how we react and interact…what we become. ‘Discipline, wisdom, and love are the ingredients or the path that leads to success in golf and life.’

I found so many parallels and really learned more about myself than I did of golf. I don’t know if have the perseverance or the ability to overcome the despair of golf, but I do know I will always try to pursue my best ‘self.’”

Judy Fraser
Weather Forecaster, WCIA 3

John Foreman

John Foreman recommends
To Kill a Mockingbird

“I’m given to believe that a lot of books have influenced me on a personal level. In fact, few other experiences have similar potential. But Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird may have been the first truly memorable book I ever read--and I cherish it still. Not many writers, it seems to me, succeed on quite so many levels as Lee did in a single published work. Mockingbird combines wonderful storytelling, color and whimsy with a powerful and straightforward message on the virtues of courage, justice and understanding that is accessible (and enjoyable) to readers of almost any age. Those are lessons for journalism, for business and for life.”

John Foreman
Editor and Publisher, The News-Gazette

Ron Zook

Ron Zook recommends
The 17 Indisputable Laws of Teamwork

I like to read motivational and inspirational works that may help me direct my staff and players to a higher level. This book shares a lot of principles and values that I adhere to.

Ron Zook
Head Football Coach (2005–2011), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Jim Barham

Jim Barham recommends
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir

What I loved about this book was how precisely the author captured that perfect little world you created as a child. Then he showed how that world crashed into the worlds of your classmates, teachers, and of course, the world according to your parents. The book made many memories of my childhood come rushing back. I couldn’t put it down — until I threw it down from laughter, which I did repeatedly. It’s the hardest thing to write something that makes you laugh out loud, but Bill Bryson does it with great ease.

Jim Barham
Owner, Barham Benefit Group

Denise Martin recommends
The Glass Castle: A Memoir

When I read outside of work it is for pleasure only. I spend my work time reading such fascinating works as the Journal of Accountancy (okay, maybe a little boring). It is no wonder that when I leave the office I want something to distract me from the everyday monotony of ways to improve or expand on my business knowledge. Recently I have read and loved The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls. This book is a personal memoir. It is beyond belief what one woman endured during her lifetime and yet still became very successful in her adult life. So many times in our society we hear of numerous reasons of why people cannot succeed and this book makes you realize that there truly are no excuses.

Denise Vilardo Martin, CPA
Audit Partner, Martin, Hood, Friese & Associates, LLC

Jim Gould recommends
Raving Fans: A Revolutionary Approach to Customer Service

This book by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles is one that you will devour from cover to cover. It speaks to anyone that is the service industry. Raving Fans is full of succinct, inspirational service insights. Enjoy!

Jim Gould
Proprietor, Jim Gould Restaurant

Bob Plecki recommends
Coach Wooden: One-on-One
Leading with the Heart

John Wooden and Mike Krzyzewski are arguably two of the best college basketball coaches of all time. Both subscribe to a “servant” style of leadership based on communication, trust, integrity, and love within their organization. Both coaches have a strong spiritual side that is the core of their leadership styles. As leaders, we live in highly competitive environments. If you want to learn how to win in these situations, then both books are must reads!

Bob Plecki
President. Champaign Main Street Bank & Trust

Tracy Parsons recommends
Sacred Hoops

Right now I am in the process of reading two books, The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama and Transformation Soup by Sark. Both of these books are terrific at encouraging you to do self-evaluation. The types of books I like to read are those that are motivational for personal reflection and growth.

The business book I would like to suggest is Sacred Hoops by professional basketball coach Phil Jackson. In my work at the Urban League of Champaign County, leadership and the ability to lead others is critical to my success. I lead and manage over 50 employees but also have the challenge of working to uplift our constituents as well as provide leadership toward our communities’ recognition that all of our citizens must be full participants in our social and economic opportunities. Sacred Hoops is an excellent book that chronicles Coach Jackson’s approach to team and leadership building. Jackson’s message is that each individual has a specific role and responsibility in building the concept of one or the team. He states that by learning the strengths and talents of each person you build from there for success. I try to follow this model in my management of staff and role in the community.

Tracy Parsons

Steve Carter recommends
Why Some Companies Emerge Stronger and Better from a Crisis

While working on the City of Champaign emergency plan, I wondered how the private sector was responding to crises. My search quickly led me to Ian Mitroff, the leading expert on crisis management in the private sector, and his new book. He argues that corporate America is basically unprepared for the wide variety of crises which seem to be occurring with increasing frequency. But, you do not have to be a victim of a Katrina-level disaster to benefit from his seven essential lessons for surviving a disaster. This book is aimed at helping leaders of any organization prepare themselves and their organizations to successfully survive a crisis, large or small. Don’t assume it won’t happen to you! Are you ready?

Steve Carter
City Manager, City of Champaign


Jon “Cody” Sokolski recommends
The Rise of the Creative Class

Before I read Dr. Richard Florida’s treatise, I had a collection of unconnected ideas about societal movements and how they would affect our culture over the coming years. I had a sense that big cities were not exclusively attractive to younger folks anymore. Myself having left New York because the cost, both financial and peripheral — vis a vis quality of life issues — was beginning to outweigh the positive of the amenities. This book went a long way towards crystallizing my thoughts and, at the same time, offering reassurance that there was a logical underpinning and, in fact, a social movement afoot that related to my more metaphysical thoughts on change. Therefore, when my friend Mike Kulas mentioned that he was having recruitment/retention difficulties with staff and wondering if he could keep his company in Champaign, it all clicked. And that was the catalyst for the creation of One Main Development.

Jon “Cody” Sokolski
President, One Main Development Corporation
Co-founder and Past President of 40 North/88 West, the Champaign County Art, Culture, and Entertainment Council

Photo: Alice Dodds

Marsha Grove

Marsha Grove recommends
Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap - and Others Don’t

I recently read this book by Jim Collins for the second time, and enjoyed revisiting the author’s research into how an organization can become excellent. His point about finding people who put out an extraordinary effort is one I try to embrace.

Marsha Grove
Library Director, Champaign Public Library

John W. Wright

John W. Wright recommends
The Strangest Secret

The Strangest Secret, written by Earl Nightingale, is a foundational book on being all you can be. Nightingale recorded the book in the early ’60s. It was the first non-musical record ever to sell over 1,000,000 copies. If I had to rank the two most powerful books I have ever read, the order would be as follows: 1. The Bible; 2. The Strangest Secret.

John W. Wright
Managing Partner, Wright Financial Group, Inc.
Northwestern Mutual Financial Network

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