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"Thinking Reed" hits bookstands

By Aimee Sisco on February 17, 2012 04:06 PM

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Given Reed's proud tradition of intellectual fellowship between students and faculty, it seems only fitting that two professors chose to commemorate our centennial by honoring the careers of an amazing group of alumni. To coincide with Reed's big centennial bash, Roger Porter [English 1961-] and Robert Reynolds [physics 1963-2008] have put together Thinking Reed: Centennial Essays by Graduates of Reed College, available from Reed's bookstore for $19.95.

"Our graduates have carried something of the college with them wherever they've gone," write Roger and Robert in their introduction to the collection, "Reed is known to the world largely because of them."

The 33 essays reveal the often unpredictable ways that the authors' Reed education inspired them, challenged them, and brought out unexpected abilities, and how they discovered in themselves the taproot of their achievements.

Having worked with six actual and five acting presidents; witnessed the births of Paideia, Renn Fayre, RAW, and ROMP; and having watched the campus grow both literally and metaphorically, Roger and Robert have collectively spent 100 years at Reed as faculty members, a detail they find "at the very least thought provoking." These are professors of studious understatement. We find some of that in the collection, too, which is lively, at times quite playful, and filled with more modest facts than self-aggrandizing adjectives.

When mathematician Daniel Bump '74, for instance, talks about being drawn to Lillian Lieber's The Einstein Theory of Relativity at the age of twelve, he doesn't bother with a clichéd epiphany. Instead, he approaches this moment of discovery, one among many that will lead him to a deep professional commitment to mathematics, with a straightforwardness and simplicity that's surprisingly profound. "I was too young and unready to understand the field equation," he writes, "but I apprehended quite a bit and wanted to know more. This is the book I had with me on October 12, 1962, the day of the Columbus Day Storm. The house was filled with various people I didn't know, people who couldn't get home because power lines were down and the roads couldn't be traveled. I remember trying to read that book by flashlight as the roof blew off our house."

Similarly, Katharine Poundstone '95, who majored in Chinese and in biochemistry, resists the impulse to gloss over the difficulty of her senior thesis. "I translated a Chinese text into English," she writes, "Wang Shuo's novella, The Players, the choice of my thesis adviser, Professor Charles Wu, who must have overestimated my abilities. This choice was like asking a Chinese student who had just begun to study English to translate Hunter S. Thompson."

Roger and Robert mention in their introduction to the book that they tried to phrase their initial request for essays "in a manner that would not elicit panegyrics to the college." They needn't have worried. Not because Reedies don't love Reed--without fail these essays celebrate the intellectual community each author found at the college--but because Reedies are unfailingly accountable storytellers. As Abraham Lincoln remarked, "Truth is generally the best vindication against slander." These essays are authentic representations of the nature of a Reed education and the values that have upheld the college for a hundred years and counting.

Published in September 2011 to coincide with Reed's centennial, the book is available from Reed's bookstore for $19.95. Professors Jacqueline Dirks '82 [history 1991-], Michael Foat '86 [religion 1996-], and Virginia Oglesby Hancock '62 [music 1991-] were on the advisory committee for Thinking Reed.