Episode 57 - 2019 Summer Book Club Kickoff

As part of the podcast series Solutions for Higher Education, SUU President Scott L Wyatt will lead a “Summer Reading Club” focusing on a new book each month. Readers who join the podcast will be given an introduction to the book by Scott Wyatt and podcast host Steve Meredith near the beginning of each month, and then near the end of the month, an expert guest will join the conversation to give additional insight and context to the completed reading.

The 2019 President’s Podcast Summer Book Club will read:

  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • Hamlet by William Shakespeare
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (New English Translation by John Minford)
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions to Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I’m your host, Steve Meredith, and joining me in-studio today, as he always does, is President Wyatt. Hi, Scott.   

Scott Wyatt: Hello, Steve.

Meredith: It’s good to see you, and it’s especially always good to see you on the Friday or Thursday or whatever at the end of the semester where we’re almost done. This coming Friday is graduation for us.

Wyatt: Yeah. Of course, you’ll hear this podcast after graduation.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: But we’re recording this two days before graduation.

Meredith: And we’re excited. You want to talk just a little bit about graduation or who our speaker is? I realize, again, it will be a little bit too late, but people might be interested in knowing.

Wyatt: Um…yeah, I think it’s an interesting commencement. Partly because we’ve got the largest graduating class and it’s significantly up from last year.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: So, we’ve got more graduates, more master’s degree graduates, more bachelor’s degree graduates than what we’ve ever had. We had some rain and some snow.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And it’s perfect to make the lawns look spectacular.  

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And now the sun is out, and so, campus is going to look spectacular. Really great.

Meredith: Well, this is the time of year when a mixture of relief and pride for every faculty member, every staff member as we watch those students who walked toward the east to the bell tower when they were freshman now head west to through the bell tower as the sun is setting on their experience at SUU and they head down to our commencement exercises. And I say it’s like watching your own children grow…

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: And develop and mature, and it’s a great, great day for those of us that work in higher education. There’s the payoff. It’s not the only payoff, we’re delighted to hear how students get jobs and how their lives develop after the fact, but this first step, this first chunk of our job if we see them in those robes graduating, we feel at least a measure of success as an institution and as a group of people.

Wyatt: Yeah, and at commencement we have one of those fun traditions that started when Mike Benson was president and that is the connection to our bell tower. It’s interesting that in South Korea, and I have attended one of these ceremonies, but they have a ceremony for the start of university life and it’s when you’re accepted and all those kinds of things. Because in some ways, the most significant moment is getting into the school you want to get into.

Meredith: Hmm.

Wyatt: So, they have a really nice ceremony and a number of students from South Korea come to SUU and five years ago, I was there for this ceremony, it was really neat. We have a similar sort of kind of ceremony where the freshman, just as school is beginning, we have a processional going through underneath the bell tower heading west.

Meredith: And all the faculty and staff are out there, and we have the drumline.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: And everybody’s excited and patting them on the back wishing them well.

Wyatt: I said this backwards. Can you rewind? [Both laugh]

Meredith: Yeah, what part did you say backwards?

Wyatt: They don’t go west, they’re going east.

Meredith: Yeah, they go east. That’s right. We knew that. Our listeners knew that. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: So, on the first day, we start by having a little ceremony, a convocation, the America First Event Center and then the students process up through campus and march underneath the Carter Carillon and everybody’s cheering and it’s, “Congratulations, you’re started. This is the gateway.” And then, they’re not to walk underneath the bell tower again until commencement.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: And then we start on the east side and we march underneath the bell tower and head west and go back into the America First Events Center where the commencement exercises are held. And then for the rest of their lives, they’re free to walk under the bell tower all they choose.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: But, if you’re not a member of the alumni, you’re not to walk under there until you’ve graduated. It’s fun. It’s really fun.

Meredith: That is. I didn’t realize how ingrained it was until you just described it there.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: So, that’s cool.

Wyatt: Kind of the starting and the ending, but both of them are endings and starts.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: Depending on the direction you are headed.

Meredith: And here we are at the end of one thing and the start of another. So, it’s time to start our summer book club.

Wyatt: Yeah. But before we do that, we’ve got to comment on who our commencement speaker is.

Meredith: Oh, let’s do that.

Wyatt: So, Melissa Stockwell is going to be delivering our commencement address. Melissa is the first female soldier wounded in Iraq, and she lost a leg. But she was an athlete before she went into the military and she has remained an athlete after, winning Olympic golds in the Paralympic events, including triathlon.

Meredith: Wow.

Wyatt: It’s…there are some videos that have been produced of her and that you can watch on YouTube, but it’s an amazing thing to see a person with the disabilities that she has race on a bicycle and on foot and swimming, all three. Inspirational person. I think this might be our first person of disabilities who has been an honorary doctorate recipient and commencement speaker at Southern Utah University. And I’m really excited about that.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: I think this is inspiring for our students to help them realize the possibilities in their lives, regardless of whatever challenges they face.

Meredith: It’s great.

Wyatt: So…

Meredith: Yeah, that’s a great message.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: To send graduates out into the world with.

Wyatt: If you can participate in a triathlon with one leg, then surely, surely those of us that have two legs can do a lot of things.

Meredith: That’s right.

Meredith: So, the summer book club. Last year, we started this summer reading group and it was actually, I think, pretty popular. We had a lot of feedback from our listeners that they enjoyed this more relaxed schedule. We don’t do it every week because nobody has that much time that they want to burn through a book in a week, right? And because summer reading is…the summer slows down a little bit for those of us in academia, not so much for you and I, but a little bit and we like to take that period to refresh our brains and our thinking just a little bit. So, we have arranged with four of the members of our literature faculty to join us to talk about four different books that are either in their area of expertise or that they have recently taught in class or that simply are classics that we are well to revisit from time to time. So, do you want me to start?

Wyatt: Yeah, let’s get going. These are four books that everyone should read.

Meredith: So, the first book, we’re going to be joined by Kyle Bishop who is a great friend of mine and actually spent some time this past fall in Transylvania with Kyle and he did a great job leading us through a discussion of Dracula, if you can imagine being in Transylvania discussing Dracula, but, anyway, he did a great job with that. He’s going to talk with us on a Pulitzer Prize winning book that is called The Underground Railroad and it is by an author named Colson Whitehead, spelled W-h-i-t-e-h-e-a-d. Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad. Again, this is a Pulitzer Prize winning book and it tells a story of our protagonist, Cora, who is a young slave in Georgia on a cotton plantation and, as opposed to the way that the underground railroad existed in reality as a metaphor, this book takes the idea that this is an actual underground railroad and that Cora is an escapee from where she is in Georgia and jumps on this underground railroad. There are engineers and conductors and they operate this secret network of actual tracks, right? So, Cora goes really running from one station on the train to the next, always being chased by the person that would try to return her to slavery. But, we get an interesting view, not only of the obvious fear and terror that an escaped slave would have felt, but also of the cities in the south that she visited and what was going on during the south in those times in those places. So, it’s an interesting fantasy historical novel and it places us in the mind of not only being there at a time that actually existed but then being there in a way that didn’t exist. So, that’s The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and we’re looking forward to being joined by Kyle Bishop. So, check that out. That will be our very first book and we are going to talking with Kyle about that book right about the end of May. That will be our next podcast that last week of May, so stay tuned. But it will be probably the Tuesday right after Memorial Day that that will be released. So, you have a few weeks to get the reading under your belt. And please, as always, if you’re interested in talking to Kyle, you’re interested in talking to us, if you have particular questions about the book, we would look forward to hearing from you.

Wyatt; The book is, if you go to Amazon, it’s been reviewed by people such as Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey. It’s the first time…I spend quite a bit of time on Amazon getting books and reviewing them and there’s…I just thought that was fun to see Barack Obama’s…

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Short little review. But this is “a stirring exploration of the American experiment” according to the Wall Street Journal. It should be a delight to read. Not a difficult read.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: But it…

Meredith: I think that’s right.

Wyatt: But one that’s very thought provoking.

Meredith: Yeah, very impactful. And that podcast will be released on Tuesday the 28th of May, the Tuesday right after Memorial Day. So, we hope you join us for Kyle Bishop and that discussion. President, what’s our second book?

Wyatt: So, the next book is by a little-known author, the book’s name is Hamlet. I’m trying to remember the author’s name, it seems to have escaped me.

Meredith: [Laughs]

Wyatt: Oh, right. William Shakespeare.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Meredith: The crazy Dane.

Wyatt: Yeah. So, this book was first…

Meredith: So, we’re going to read the play.

Wyatt: We’re going to read it. And there’s a reason why we’re reading this one. And, Joy Sterrantino in our English department is going to join us. She’s a Shakespeare scholar.

Meredith: We had Joy last year for 1984 and she did a terrific job.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: I’m looking forward to that discussion.

Wyatt: Yeah, it’s…Hamlet, as you know, is one of those books that is probably the most influential book ever written. At least as far as a novel or a play kind of book. I think most people regard it as the most influential book ever. It’s a story about Prince Hamlet, retribution, his search for the truth driven by his father’s ghost and a very corrupt society all around him. And it’s a very chilling revenge tragedy. I don’t need to really say too much about the book because I think most people know the story of Hamlet, but we’re…I think a lot of people have seen the play but fewer people have actually read it.

Meredith: Right. And I love to read the book of a movie before I go see it. I know a lot of people don’t. “Hey, it wrecks it for me.” But I love to have in my  mind those action words. The descriptive text that sets the context or gives you the setting for something. I love reading that in Shakespeare’s plays. It’s…I, of course, love the dialogue too, it’s the greatest dialogue ever, but I love the descriptive text of, “Here’s the scene” and then it allows you to kind of build the stage in your mind a little bit and not even have to be at the play. You can make the setting wherever you want it to be and I’ve always loved that about a book of a movie or a book of a play.

Wyatt: Hamlet is the play that’s has been produced the most on Broadway.

Meredith: Really?

Wyatt: No play has been produced more than Hamlet. It’s…

Meredith: I’m sorry…not sorry, I’m surprised to hear that.

Wyatt: Yeah, think of all the other plays that have been around for a long time. This one is the most enduring play. 400 years old. 400+ years old. But we’re going to read this one because if you read the play before you go see Shakespeare then it makes more sense, it’s more fun.

Meredith: For sure.

Wyatt: And we’re doing Hamlet this summer with the Utah Shakespeare Festival. It opens on June 29th here in Cedar City and is going to actually play all the way through October 12th. And we’re trying to…Brian Vaughn, our artistic director, has been working with a Shakespeare scholar who is helping fund this project and we’re going a slightly novel interpretation. Of course, all the words stay the same, nothing changes.

Meredith: Mhmm.

Wyatt: But it’s a Hamlet for our time.

Meredith: Interesting. So…

Wyatt: In this world with all the political characters and all of the intrigue and corruption that’s always being talked about or accused. Everything that’s going on. This…

Meredith: Can I tell you that I don’t think intrigue and corruption is a new thing? I think Hamlet proves that. [Both laugh]

Wyatt: Yeah, that’s right. It seems to be a little more intense today.

Meredith: Yeah, right.

Wyatt: But, anybody that’s been a really solid student of American history would say, “Well, we’ve certainly been in more divisive times and we’ve had more corrupt people…”

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: “Than we do today according to the allegations.” And the allegations are hitting all parties, it’s not…

Meredith: Right. Oh, yeah.

Wyatt:…Anybody in particular.

Meredith: There’s plenty of paint to go around there.

Wyatt: This is one of those stories of political intrigue and the study of the human psychic. So, I’m super excited to read this book and talk with Joy Sterrantino.

Meredith: Yeah, that should be fun.

Wyatt: And then go watch it produced in this lightly new way.

Meredith: That’ll be cool.

Wyatt: This summer in Cedar City.

Meredith: I’m looking forward to it. So, the…as you say, the text stays the same with all the…it’s not going to turn into, “What ho, what Tweetest thou?” Kind of stuff?

Wyatt: No, the words all stay the same. But the way that the actors perform, the way they look, the way…you know, you can change the entire meaning just in the way in which you say something or the way you look when you’re saying something.

Meredith: Yep. There’s no question about it. Inflection of voice and look on the face can tell way more than the words can.

Wyatt: Yeah. I have a friend that’s seen Hamlet I think he told me 32 times—and he doesn’t live in Cedar City—he’s coming out to watch this production. And I’m really excited to see if I can take something from Hamlet that helps inform me about today.

Meredith: I’m looking forward to that as well. That should really be fun. That will come out on Monday, June 24th. So, you’ll have from essentially Memorial Day weekend to the last week in June to read Hamlet. And, of course, we invite you to come join us at the Utah Shakespeare Festival to come and see the new version of Hamlet.

Wyatt: Should be really fun. It’s going to be a fun, fun summer.

Meredith: Now, our July book is really going to be interesting and a departure for us from this book club because it’s…well, we even have trouble pronouncing the title. [Both laugh] We’ve asked a couple of Mandarin speakers. So, I’m going to try to get this inflection right. Tao Te Ching.

Wyatt: Yeah, I think you got it.

Meredith: Yeah. And so, this is kind of the philosophical foundation of Taoism, right? And written by the philosoph, Lao-Tzu, and there’s a new translation out that we are going to read together with one of our English faculty members.

Wyatt: Bryce Christensen, teaches literature, he’s an incredibly thoughtful person who just gets so into the text and the beauty of the language and he’s headed out on a Fulbright to Taiwan next year. So, we won’t see him on our campus next year, but he’s an expert on some of these philosophical words that come out of China. Such a rich history of poetry and these  kinds of prose.

Meredith: So, this is the foundational text for Taoism but has also been amazingly influential in other areas, right?

Wyatt: Buddhism, Confucianism…

Meredith: Art.

Wyatt: Art.

Meredith: Other literature, dance, music. Yeah, you can buy a Winnie the Pooh book. [Both laugh] The Tao of Pooh.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: That talks Winnie the Pooh from the perspective of Taoism. So…

Wyatt: If you’re going to only read one book that’s from the Chinese culture in your life, this might be the one. This might be it. And I’ve not read it…

Meredith: Nor I.

Wyatt: And I’m super excited to read it.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And discuss it with Bryce Christensen. It’s going to be…

Meredith: So, this is a brand-new English translation and Bryce is going to lead us through that a little bit. And we will present that on the 22nd of July. Monday, July 22nd, so, you’ll have, again, the last little bit of June and most of July to read that book with us. And we encourage you if you’re going to the beach over the 4th of July or wherever you’re joining…wherever you’re a podcast fan from that you take the books with you and incorporate them into your summer schedule a little bit.

Wyatt: So, Tao Te Ching.

Meredith: Mhmm.

Wyatt: Perhaps it might be good for us to say how to spell that.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: So, I think it’s T-a-o T-e C-h-i-n-g.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: As you’re looking for it on…

Meredith: Amazon,

Wyatt: Amazon or anywhere else you might go looking.

Meredith: Right. T-a-o T-e C-h-i-n-g. Three words.

Wyatt: OK.

Meredith: Alright. So, the last one is the story of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters, mostly taught from the perspective of Elizabeth Bennet, and it is Pride and Prejudice. And I think that I’ve been asked to talk a little bit about this one today because, some of our listeners know maybe that I have a little bit of a history in the romance novel industry. [Both laugh] I used to…

Wyatt: And what is that?

Meredith: [Laughs] Well, I used to produce the awards show for the Romance Writers of America. Kind of the Oscars or Pulitzers for people who with romance novels. And so, I became friendly with people in that industry and have done audio books and other things and so, if you know where to look, you can find that. But I have always loved Jane Austen’s novels. And the regency books are all about manners. They’re all about the manners and the customs of that time, and Austen casts this very sly cynical, but gently so in good humor, look at a family that has five daughters and an estate, but because of the…again, the strangeness of the time, none of the daughters can inherit the estate. It has to go to the next male heir. And so, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are absolutely frantic to get their daughters married to someone with money, right? And essentially, from that cynical start, we see the young ladies in this story marry for love. Other reasons too, but it turns out to be a fairly romantic novel and I can just tell by looking at you as we’re recording this that this is going to be a hard read for you. [Both laugh] You’re not a romance novel guy. I actually have a sweater, I shouldn’t say this, but I actually have a sweater that says, “Don’t bother me, I’m watching a Hallmark movie.” So, I can tell you, you know that I love this kind of stuff, I love watching it with my wife so, I’m a big old softy where this stuff is concerned. So, I’m looking forward to this. So, Jean Boreen, who is the dean of—yes, Jean Boreen dean, all three things—she is the dean of our HHS, humanities…

Wyatt: College of Humanities and Social Science. She’s only been here this year, she’s new.

Meredith: And is an expert in regency literature.

Wyatt: That’s right.

Meredith: And so, we’re looking forward to having Jean join us to talk about the dreamy Mr. Darcy.

Wyatt: Yeah. And this is a book that I’ve always thought I should read, and I never have. So…

Meredith: Right. Right, there’s lots of those books for me. I just happen to have read and love the novels of Jane Austen. So…

Wyatt: So, you look at these four books, what a great opportunity for this summer, Steve. We’re going to be able to read some Asian philosophy.

Meredith: That’s right.

Wyatt: And we’re going to be able to read some Asian philosophy, the most influential novel or play, however we describe it, both ways, ever written by Shakespeare. Still relevant 400 years later. In fact, Shakespeare seems old, but Tao Te Ching is…

Meredith: Yeah, sixth century.

Wyatt: 1400 years old.

Meredith: Yeah, that’s right.

Wyatt: Still relevant and interesting today.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: And we’re going to read a Jane Austen and then we’re going to read this book that really explores America through kind of the alternative reality, fantasy sort of approach to Cora who is escaping through the underground railroad, a railroad that’s a real railroad.

Meredith: That’s right. So that should be…

Wyatt: Should be fun.

Meredith: Very cool.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: I’m looking forward to it. Well, as always, thank you for listening. Sorry, go ahead.

Wyatt: When are we going to review the last one.

Meredith: Oh, yeah, the last one.

Wyatt: We need the dates.

Meredith: I didn’t give that date, I’m very sorry. Yeah, we’ll do Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice on Monday the 26th of August. That will actually be the first day of class for us back here at SUU. And we’re…

Wyatt: Let’s run through all of them real quick.

Meredith: OK.

Wyatt: Do you have the dates for all of them?

Meredith: I do. So, our first book, which is The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, we’re going to review that on Tuesday, because Monday is Memorial Day, Tuesday, May 28th. Our second book is Hamlet.

Wyatt: Is Hamlet.

Meredith: And we’re going to be doing that on Monday the 24th of June.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Joy Sterrantino. On the 22nd of July, we will be doing Tao Te Ching. [Laughs]

Wyatt: That’s pretty good, Steve.

Meredith: Yeah, I…no, I bungled it. Anyway, we’ll be…who’s joining us again? I’ve forgotten now…

Wyatt: Bryce Christensen.

Meredith: That’s right, Bryce Christensen from our English faculty will be joining us, and we’ll be glad to have Bryce. And again, that’s the 22nd of July. And then, on August 26th, Jean Boreen will be joining us to talk about Pride and Prejudice from…

Wyatt: Pride and Prejudice.

Meredith: So, as always, we look forward to any kind of input that you have and I should sign off by saying, you’ve been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We are thankful for our listeners and look forward to talking to you again soon.  Bye bye.