Capital Region

Story time: Community leaders tell us what books they’re reading

We discover some of their reading habits, favorite childhood books
Clockwise from top left: Ainlay, Cheeks, McCarthy, Morris, Scharfenberger, Groft, Miller, Moono, Sudduth and Sobol.
Clockwise from top left: Ainlay, Cheeks, McCarthy, Morris, Scharfenberger, Groft, Miller, Moono, Sudduth and Sobol.

The days grow shorter, the evenings are turning darker. For many of us, autumn is a time to escape with a good novel or dig into some serious non-fiction.  

The Gazette asked prominent people in the Capital Region to share the titles of their books and reveal their personal reading habits.

Here are the questions we asked:

  • What books are on your nightstand or coffee table?
  • Do you prefer an e-reader or traditional books?
  • What’s your favorite place to read? (For example: in bed, in a chair in my living room, on trains and planes, under a palm tree in Tahiti)
  • What was your favorite book as a child?

Gary McCarthy
Mayor of Schenectady


READING NOW: On the nightstand: “The Responsive City,” Stephen Goldsmith and Susan Crawford; “Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary,” “Seward: Lincoln’s Indispensable Man” by Walter Stahr.

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: Traditional books

READING SPOT: On the deck up at the lake 

CHILDHOOD BOOK: “Green Eggs and Ham,” Dr. Seuss

Philip Morris
CEO of Proctors

READING NOW: Near my favorite chair are “Dark Money” and “Hamilton”

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: I do both. We have a Proctors Book Club and I read those as e-books on my phone. In addition, on my phone, I am currently about halfway through “Managing the Unexpected,” “Why Geography Matters” and Dan Brown’s “Origin.”

READING SPOT: I never read in bed, learned long ago that is a recipe for sleeping and ruining the books. Love reading in an Adirondack chair on a cool afternoon. Often reading in short spurts on train to New York City or when waiting for something or someone.

CHILDHOOD BOOK: I do not remember reading as a child. I must have, but I don’t remember. I do remember, vividly, getting my first library card at about 11 and going bananas because I had access to books. My parents were immigrants and not really readers. I read every “boy” series I could find and my favorite was the Danny Dunn series.

Steady Moono
President of Schenectady County Community College

READING NOW: “Finding the Space to Lead” by Janice Marturano, “OPEN: How We Will Work, Live and Learn in the Future” by David Price, “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam, “The Wisdom of Not Knowing: Discovering a Life of Wisdom by Embracing Uncertainty” by Estelle Frankel

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: Traditional books

READING SPOT: On my veranda  

CHILDHOOD BOOK: I was a voracious reader as a child. I can’t recall a single favorite book.

Mary Cheeks
General manager of Rivers Casino & Resort


READING NOW: “Poker Brat,” Phil Hellmuth’s autobiography. We just had him here for the Poker Night in America Capital Region Classic Poker Tournament and I found him fascinating. I reach for books that are motivating and inspiring. This summer I read “Building a Magnetic Culture” by Kevin Sheridan.  

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: Traditional books! I enjoy holding the book and turning the paper pages. After staring at a computer screen for a good part of my day, I don’t find it very relaxing to curl up at home and stare at another device.

READING SPOT: I like the quiet solitude of my living room before going to bed.

CHILDHOOD BOOK: “Charlotte’s Web.” It made an impact on me for two reasons. It was the first book I read with strong female characters. The other reason was I always enjoyed learning new words as a child, as I still do today.

William ‘Mac’ Sudduth
President of miSci

READING NOW: I just finished “Saving Troy” by a local author, Bill Patrick. I am reading “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf. It’s a biography of Alexander von Humboldt and how his travels and writing changed the way we see the natural world. Waiting at my bedside table are two by Louise Penny, “The Great Reckoning” and “Glass Houses.”

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: Both. I use books about 70 percent of the time (and have a large library). But I do use my iPad or iPhone on occasion, especially if having the light on would bother my wife of 50 years.

READING SPOT: I read in bed, on my favorite couch, on every flight I take and any vacation at the beach or in the mountains.

CHILDHOOD BOOK: Anything by Mark Twain. I also like the Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy Sayers and “The Barchester” and “Palliser” series by Anthony Trollope.

Stephen Ainlay
President of Union College

READING NOW: I like having two books to read at any given time.  At the moment the two are: Scott Greenberger, “The Unexpected President: the Life and Times of Chester A. Arthur” and “Bill Bryson, “At Home: A Short History of Private Life.” I’m a huge Bryson fan and try to read everything he writes. 

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: I read e-books but I prefer the traditional book format. Something nice about holding the book.

READING SPOT: I like to read before bed. I read on planes. I read on the train to New York City. And I have a favorite easy chair in my home office. 

CHILDHOOD BOOK: I was a big fan of “The Boxcar Children” series by Gertrude Chandler Warner.  I also remember fondly Robert Lawson’s “Rabbit Hill.”

Edward Scharfenberger
Bishop of the Diocese of Albany


READING NOW: “Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist” by Brant Pitre, “The Anthropic Cosmological Principle” by John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler, “The New Jerusalem” by G.K. Chesterton

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: The books above are traditional books. I use my Kindle mostly for reference books. Two on my Kindle now: “Eat as the Romans Do” by Gianfranco Focarelli, “The Second Greatest Story Ever Told” by Michael E. Gaitley (the life of Pope St. John Paul II)

READING SPOT: I don’t need a special place. I read everything everywhere.

CHILDHOOD BOOK: I liked the “All About” books: dinosaurs, space, etc. Mostly scientific and exploration stuff. I read all sorts of adventure and mystery books, all of “The Hardy Boys” and “Tom Swift” books. In high school, I read most of Charles Dickens and Nathaniel Hawthorne and Herman Melville.

Elizabeth Sobol
President and CEO of Saratoga Performing Arts Center

READING NOW: I have always been obsessed with Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and anything written about it, so I bought Daniel Mendelsohn’s new “An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic” and am just finishing that now. Also on the table are essays by John Berger, Eric Kandel’s “Reductionism in Art and Brain Science,” Mario Livio’s new book, “Why?,” which explores human curiosity, Florence Williams’ “The Nature Fix,” a couple of books on Matisse and Mary Oliver’s “Upstream.” There are many more. I love Jorge Luis Borges’ quote: “I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books.”

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: Traditional. I went through a phase when I downloaded everything onto my Ipad Kindle. I used to travel so much and had a fear of running out of things I wanted to read on a trip, and the Kindle solved that. But I really do not enjoy reading on a screen, so 95 percent of my reading has now reverted back to real books. I enjoy it more — and retain more.

READING SPOT: Mornings, a big chair with lots of sunlight coming through the window and a cup of coffee. Evenings, a chair out under the trees and a glass of wine.

CHILDHOOD BOOK: “From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler”

Rachel Conn
Executive director of Hamilton Hill Arts Center

READING NOW: “Ifa: A Complete Divination” by Ayo Salami; in the Binti series: “Home” by Nnedi Okorafor; “Brown Girl in the Ring” by Nalo Hopkinson; “Divine Inspiration,” Phyllis Galembo


READING SPOT: Anywhere: bed, couch, under a tree.

CHILDHOOD BOOK: My first book was “Sara and the Door.” I made my mother read it to me so often I memorized it. Around 10, it became the “Dragonriders of Pern” series, “The Crystal Cave” series and then the “Wild Seed” series. When I was growing up, I devoured books, to the point where I used to get in trouble for reading in school.

Tammis Groft
Executive director of Albany Institute of History & Art

READING NOW: “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles, “The Essex Serpent” by Sarah Perry, “Glass Houses” by Louise Penny. Books on the night table to read: “The Founding Fish” by John McPhee, “The Pine Barrens” by John McPhee, “The Crofter and the Laird” by John McPhee.

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: I enjoy reading hardcover books and experiencing the design choices for book and book jacket, cover art, paper, typeface and layout, and my favorite, footnotes.

READING SPOT: My favorite place to read is a quiet corner in our garden in the spring, summer, and fall, or in bed or on a beach. I select a special book to read for a long plane or train ride and an audio book for long car ride.

CHILDHOOD BOOK: As a young child I liked “The Cat in the Hat,” followed by Nancy Drew mysteries and Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

David Alan Miller
Conductor of Albany Symphony Orchestra


READING NOW:  I just finished T.J. Stiles’ monumental Pulitzer-prize-winning account of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s epic life, “The First Tycoon.” It’s essentially the story of New York’s rise to become the financial and industrial capital of the world.  Fascinating!  Launching into Candice Millard’s “The River of Doubt,” about Teddy Roosevelt’s crazy journey along the Amazon River. Then, planning on Clare Brandt’s charming book, “An American Aristocracy: The Livingstons” I guess this makes me an American history buff.

E-READER OR TRADITIONAL: Actual books.  I particularly savor big, old hardbacks.

READING SPOT: In our “great room,” looking out at the beautiful woods behind our house.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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