Collegiate Summer Reading
25 May 2003 (collegiateway.org) — Are you planning to spend some quality time at the beach, on your back porch, or (for my antipodean colleagues) in front of a fireplace in the coming weeks? Then why not partake of some delightful residential college reading that can inspire your work through the year. Here are some selections that I return to again and again for that purpose. Most of the links will take you to Amazon.com ordering pages but the books are of course available from many other sources both online and off.
Jan Morris’s The Oxford Book of Oxford. Jan Morris is a noted British writer and anthologist, and this volume is a witty collection of stories and anecdotes about Oxford and its colleges through the centuries. From the legendary naturalist William Buckland, who had eaten his way through most of the animal kingdom, to the medieval faculty members who couldn’t agree on the proper Latin wording for their maintenance request (the more things change…), Morris will delight you with much that is good and everything that is amusing in college life.
John McPhee’s The Headmaster. McPhee is one of America’s great essayists, best known for his writings on natural history. This is one of his early books, an engaging portrait of Frank Boyden, the headmaster of Deerfield Academy for more than sixty years. Although Deerfield is a secondary school, its life is the same as the life of any residential collegium. McPhee has captured that life and the spirit of its leader beautifully. Clever residential college officers will find many ideas in this volume that they can put to good use.
Mark Ryan’s A Collegiate Way of Living: Residential Colleges and a Yale Education. Dr. Ryan was for many years the dean of Jonathan Edwards College at Yale University and is now regente of Colegio José Gaos at the University of the Americas in Puebla, Mexico. This is a collection of Mark’s graceful essays on collegiate life, written for students, parents, and educators of all kinds. It is the best book available on residential colleges today, and I warmly recommend it to everyone interested in the collegiate movement around the world. This would be an ideal book for a campus reading group that is studying the residential college model.
Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. This is the book that started the “pattern” movement in architecture, and architects and non-architects alike can return to it again and again for ideas and inspiration. Alexander and his colleagues spent many years investigating what sorts of spaces and architectural features are, as a matter of empirical fact, successful for the people who live in them. They distilled their conclusions into this volume, which presents more than two hundred such design “patterns” that are known to work well. Anyone overseeing the life of a residential college can derive a wealth of insights from this volume.
Polly Stone Buck’s The Master’s Wife. Polly Buck was the wife of Norman S. Buck, master of Branford College at Yale University in the 1950s. Although society and its customs have changed over the years, many aspects of residential college life remain ever the same. An extract from this engaging and perceptive memoir is available on one of the Collegiate Way’s recommended reading pages.