Dr. Anne Kress is President of Monroe Community College in Rochester, NY. She serves as Chair of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and is well-known nationally for her work in higher education. Dr. Kress is also a Reader. Here, she shares her views on everything from a life-changing book to why she reads.
Fiction or Non-Fiction, or both?
I read much more fiction than non-fiction.
Is there a book that you re-read again and again?
No. There’s so much to read and so little time that I almost feel that I can’t re-read a book. But, sometimes when I find an author I love, I just read everything he or she has written. I’ve read all of Austen and Hardy; all of Eudora Welty’s and John Cheever’s short stories; the novels and stories by Fitzgerald. When Lauren Groff or Helen Oyeyemi writes something, I’ll read it. It’s not all high lit, though: this summer, I powered through all of Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians series like they were candy.
Can you identify a book that changed your life?
Yes. I remember reading Susan Faludi’s book Backlash: the Undeclared War Against American Women in hardback when it came out and thought, “Yes!” It made me realize that I was not alone or crazy, and it was empowering. That was in 1991, over a quarter of a century ago, and sadly, her book is as current now as it was then.
What are you reading right now?
What book should everyone read?
I should say something profound, but reading is very personal. For example, I don’t read mysteries or crime novels, so even if you told me that one was the best book on earth, I’d probably never read it. I’ll just say, everyone should read—and throw in a poem every once in a while to remind you of the power that comes from concision.
Is there a book you wish you never read?
No, but sometimes I quit a book when I just can’t push through and never feel bad about it.
Are you a solitary or a social reader?
Solitary. I get lost in reading. I’m most likely to read on planes, and when I do, the entire crowded, noisy plane disappears, and all that I’m aware of is the world of the book. I’ll sigh, cry, and laugh, so if you sit next to me, beware. The words on the page become a place and people and sounds and life. Because I studied literature for so many years, I can easily summarize, analyze, and critique, but that is not the magic of reading. The magic of reading is that it wraps me up and takes me away.
Is there a book that you hated and the world loved, or a book you loved that no one else appreciated?
There are lots of books and authors that I just do not get at all that are considered central to the canon of American literature, works by James Fennimore Cooper to Kurt Vonnegut to Cormac McCarthy. I used to call them “boy books.” In college, I convinced an Early American lit teacher to let me develop an alternate syllabus with all women authors: he hadn’t read most of the books I found, so it was enlightening for both of us.
Would you rather meet your favorite author or your favorite character?
Favorite author. I like the way the characters are in my head, and it would be odd and unfamiliar to see them out in the world.
Why do you read?
Horace wrote that the goal of poetry and drama was to delight and to instruct, and I read for both. I find true delight in reading: it brings light to my life. I also learn when I read: it makes my world bigger, deepens my understanding. Growing up, I lived in a small and narrow world. Reading let me know that a brighter, wider universe of possibilities was out there. My ticket out was a library card; my ride out was a bookmobile. I owe the life I have now to reading.