Welcome to “Marginal Interests,” a series highlighting the varied reading habits of the local comp community. This time, we spoke to Gary Kern of Metairie-based RiskSAVER LLC.
Comp Blog: What’s the best book you’ve read recently and what spoke to you about it?
Kern: The last book I read is normally my favorite book until the next one I read. Right now I am reading The Undoing Project and The Naked Communist. I just finished Primal Prescription, Body by Science, Running Revolution, and Killing England. I am not sure that books speak to me in a way that I hear a message. They have more of a subliminal influence.
Comp Blog: What’s your favorite book of all time? Why?
Kern: I was introduced to Ayn Rand when I was in the 7th or 8th grade. I read Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. These two books were profoundly eye opening for a young boy living a sheltered American life. I would not call these books my favorite books, but they profoundly influenced my views. Tolstoy is another influence.
Religious texts have also been influential in my life. As a Catholic we seldom read or study the Bible like Protestant practitioners. Not counting all the times I have heard scripture at Mass, I have actually read the Bible and refer to it often for guidance. Add to my reading list The Bhagavad Gita, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Bonhoeffer, and Proof of Heaven, and a few books on Muhammad and Islam as well.
Comp Blog: Any favorite literary characters from childhood?
Kern: No childhood characters to report on – my parents did not expose me to books or reading at an early age. I think I was in first grade (that is when we started school back then) the first time someone put a pencil in my hand, and I did not know how to use it.
Comp Blog: Favorite author right now?
Kern: Robert Frost would have to be my favorite poet. My favorite poems by Frost are “The Road not Taken,” “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” “Birches,” and “Mending Wall.” When I was younger I wrote poems all the time (not good ones). I had notebooks filled with writing and I lost all of them in Katrina. As bad as I know they were, I miss them.
Comp Blog: What genres do you gravitate to the most?
Kern: While I read some fiction, most of my reading is nonfiction. The problem I have with fiction is that I cannot put the book down until I complete the book. Reading a 200-page book in one sitting is like binge-watching. I tend to read histories and psychological tests; my degrees are in psychology, medicine, alternative medicine, religion, and poetry.
Comp Blog: What’s your book collection like (paper or digital, organized or chaotic, etc.)?
Kern: My books are like my mind, chaotic. They are not organized by title, author or subject matter. I have moved to electronic books as well. I am on the road a lot and when I have some free time, even 10 or 15 minutes, I like to read and having my electronic reader allows me to keep about 150 books with me at all times.
Comp Blog: How do you think reading benefits your personal and/or professional life?
Kern: I admire Benjamin Franklin and his life in reading has benefitted my understanding of knowledge through language. He was either the last or second to last of 17 children. He finished the second grade at a good school and was then sent to a lesser school for a year or two. In his time, Franklin was one of the best read men of his time. When we study our founders we discover that they tend to be self-taught and well-read. I can barely speak English, and yet Thomas Jefferson living in the 1700s spoke several languages!
The older I get the more important reading has become. Reading is the gift of wonder – a reservoir of knowledge and where we deposit our imagining.