Just Read It is a regular feature in which the State Journal seeks recommendations from authors, literary enthusiasts and experts, focused on the contributor’s particular genre of expertise.
Rebecca Ryan is a Madison-based futurist, author, and consultant. Her latest book, “ReGENERATION: A Manifesto for America’s Next Leaders,” was featured at the 2013 Decatur Book Festival, the largest independent book festival in the U.S. Here, she offers some local inspiration.
1. No one rocks a red bandana like Lynda Barry. Barry is to Wisconsin what Mike Myers is to Canada: our singular, contemporary, gleaming trophy of a True Creative. Lynda has written so much stuff that I can’t tell you where to begin. Take a gander at her catalog of work — I count 15 publications —and choose one for yourself. Or let me suggest that you don’t read Lynda’s stuff at all. Instead, listen to her CD, “The Lynda Barry Experience.” It’s her, reading her own witty essays, playing the accordion (how very Wisconsin is that?), and generally vacillating between complete hilarity and stories that will break you open. Or if you’re more of a hands-on type, attend one of her creative writing classes. Because no one knows how to fertilize creativity like LB. And if all of that is too intense, maybe you just want to eavesdrop on Barry’s creative process. It’s easier than you think: she’s the Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity and a Discovery Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. Barry will appear at two events at the Wisconsin Book Festival on Oct. 19 and 20 at the Central Library. Check the book festival website for more: wisconsinbook
2. If you’re sitting in an office chair that doesn’t make your butt ache, please pause for a moment of silence. Bill Stumpf was an industrial designer who created the first ergonomic work chair, and eventually the iconic Herman Miller Aeron chair. Stumpf loved Madison. “Everything goes back to those days at the University of Wisconsin,” he says of his postgraduate years studying and teaching at the Environmental Design Center. Beyond great task chairs, Stumpf made another enormous contribution to design thinking. His 1998 book, “The Ice Palace That Melted Away,” tenderly challenges us to see how care-filled design can add grace and civility to living. In a slim volume, “The Ice Palace” offers short essays on how to leave things better than we found them.
3. I read a lot of nonfiction for work, so reading fiction feels like a luxury. Like eating pie for breakfast, or taking a day off in the middle of the week. On a recommendation from one of my tennis pals, I downloaded “Taken for Granted” by Cottage Grove author Leslyn Amthor Spinelli. It was a page turner: a mash-up of “Law & Order” meets UW Medical College. The book is set in Madison, which makes it even more fun; I could picture the protagonist, former prosecutor Caroline Spencer, having a panic attack after nearly cutting someone off on the Beltline, and walking with her husband to lunch off the Square. I’m uber-impressed that this is Amthor Spinelli’s first novel. She writes with the insight and ease of big-name authors with infinite books in their legal series. And I really hope that when she’s back in Madison (she and her husband winter in San Diego), we’ll form a Madison writers’ collective. Who else wants to join?