Welcome to “Marginal Interests,” a series highlighting the varied reading habits of local insurance experts. Our inaugural subject is Ross Henry, Owner and CEO of Henry Insurance Service, Inc. in Baton Rouge. Read on to get his recommendations on historical fiction, (his favorite genre) plus his thoughts on how reading fights intellectual stagnation.
Comp Blog: What’s the best book you’ve read recently and what spoke to you about it?
Henry: The best book I’ve read recently was Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. It’s a biography but really it’s more than that. It details [Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s] faith journey and how he came to put himself willingly back into the hands of the Germans during World War II, even when he knew he was probably going to be martyred. It was really challenging and compelling and spoke to me [because it addressed] one man’s faith in very human terms.
Comp Blog: What would you say is valuable about books such as Bonhoeffer that address challenging subject matter?
Henry: I would say that it really comes down to discipline because, though it may not be the most engaging material initially, what you come away with is something much more valuable – an altered worldview even, depending on how deep the book is and what it’s about. You have to invest in challenging material to change the way you see the world.
Comp Blog: What’s your favorite novel of all time? Why?
Henry: It’s a novel by Robert Wilder called Wind from the Carolinas. It’s the only book that I’ve gone back to again and again. It details the story of a family who were loyalists during the American Revolution. They left and went to the Caribbean and literally moved the plantation brick by brick to the Bahamas. It was an attempt to recreate their life in the Southern Aristocracy. It’s a great story, I would highly recommend it.
Comp Blog: Any favorite literary characters either from childhood or now?
Henry: That’s a tough question. There’s this book called The Religion by Tim Willocks which is about the jihad against the Knights of Saint John the Baptist by the Ottomans in the 16th century. He tells this story through a fictional character named Mattias Tannhauser. I don’t know if I identify with him directly, but he comes to mind as a significant one for me.
Comp Blog: Who’s your favorite author right now?
Henry: Lately, my favorite author is Edward Rutherfurd. He’s written a number of books, all historical fiction. New York is a great one focusing on the early days of trading along the Hudson River up until present day, covering New York the state and particularly the city. He wrote one about London, another on Ireland, and one called Russka about Russia. In the last two years at least, he’s been my go-to.
Comp Blog: What genres do you usually gravitate to and why?
Henry: Historical fiction is my favorite genre because you’re able to learn in the context of narrative and story. Some people learn better reading directly from textbooks, but others learn in the context of character development. I tend to be a character development person.
Comp Blog: What’s your book collection like: paper or digital, organized or chaotic?
Henry: I do have quite a few books on a Kindle app for my iPad, but I really prefer a tactile experience – holding the book in my hands and turning pages. I’m like that with everything though; even at work I have to print things out if I need to read and make notes. I don’t like reading digitally nearly as much.
My book collection isn’t terribly organized, genres next to other genres – and then some of it is boxed up in the attic! In terms of which genres dominate the collection, it’s probably close between historical fiction and biographies. Near history as well: books about events in the last one hundred years. The one I’m reading right now is called The Boys in the Boat, a book about the 1936 Olympics.
Comp Blog: Are there any book stores that you frequent to shop for new titles?
Henry: When possible, I prefer to frequent local booksellers, and of course there are fewer and fewer of those. In Baton Rouge there’s a place called Cottonwood Books. It’s a neighborhood place and they do special orders.
Comp Blog: Finally, how does reading benefit your personal and professional pursuits?
Henry: First of all, I think it’s important as we age, and by aging I mean as soon as you graduate from college, to keep learning. The minute you stop learning and remain stagnant – in my opinion you’re going backwards. So that’s part of the reason that I think it’s important to challenge ourselves in different ways: mentally, physically, etc. Reading is one way that we can keep ourselves mentally sharp and it broadens our horizons in so many ways. You can explore parts of the world you’ll probably never see by reading about them.
And then professionally, depending what you’re reading, you can glean a lot of information from the informative material out there. Right now I’m reading The Dream Manager, which is about how to engage employees in a way that transcends what they do from nine-to-five and addresses goals and dreams. But in general, all reading helps us expand.
Image Credit: Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, published by Thomas Nelson, 2010. Wind from the Carolinas by Robert Wilder, published by G.P. Putnam’s, New York, 1964, re-published by Bluewater Books & Charts 1997.