Author Interview: David S. Kidder, Author of 'The Intellectual Devotional'

Posted: March 27, 2007 in Uncategorized

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David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim’s The Intellectual Devotional is the ultimate guilty pleasure for the inquiring mind. Inspired by religious devotionals from eras past, they’ve set up the book so each day of the week has a different category. Monday is for History, Tuesday for Literature, Wednesday for Visual Arts, Thursday for Science, Friday for Music, Saturday for Philosophy and Sunday, quite fittingly, for religion.

The day I’m writing this is Day 3 of Week 12, a day to learn something about Visual Arts. The subject presented for today is da Vinci’s The Last Supper:

“Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper for his patron, Ludovico Sforza, from 1495 to 1498. Situated on the north wall of the monk’s refectory at Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, it is one of the most famous paintings of a biblical subject in Western history.”

An analysis of the painting follows, giving the devoted intellectual a nicely condensed lesson on what makes this particular painting so enduring and important. Every page of The Intellectual Devotional contains a self-contained lesson on one interesting topic. The style is informative and lively, giving just enough information to feed our minds without overwhelming us with extraneous detail. If the reader wishes to go on and pursue the topic more, that’s all to the good, but really the lesson you take away in roughly ten or fifteen minutes is a great primer on the subject. It’s enough to boost your knowledge base, or reinforce something you may have learned but forgotten.

David Kidder was kind enough to answer a few interview questions for me on the topic of his collaborative effort:

LG: What inspired you both to write The Intellectual Devotional, and how long did it take to assemble all that information?

DK: I looked over my many bookshelves, which were overflowing with books I had started, but for whatever reason had been unable to finish. Like most Americans, I am extremely busy with a demanding career and a family. But, I have a deep commitment to cultural literacy and to broadening my knowledge base. So, The Intellectual Devotional grew from my commitment to learning, but with a practical acknowledgement of my limited time.

I was inspired by the devotional format. It seemed a great way to absorb a lot of information over a year. I liked the idea finding a few minutes each day and just setting that aside to personal betterment. I see each book as an intellectual trophy.

With regard to timing, it took about a year and a half to complete the book.

LG: What’s your target audience for the book? What demographic do you think most likely to pick it up?

DK: Our target audience for The Intellectual Devotional is 26 – 65, which is a very wide audience. But, we found that a lot of people are buying the book for high school and college students. It has turned out to be a fantastic gift book for almost any occasion. Who needs more sweaters?

LG: A lot of critics have been complaining about the “dumbing down” of American society. They say less cerebral, mainstream fiction is taking over more literary writing. What’s your take on that, and did that idea have any influence on your decision to write this book?

DK: We worked with a team of some of the best Ivy League institutions and other NYC based universities in developing this book. Our intention was to give the most meaningful and concise information within five minutes. Our goal was to cut through the clutter and enhance our reader¹s knowledge base.

LG: Do you see the internet boom as a blessing or a curse as far as the instant availability of pretty much all the information there is to be had on earth? Is it fragmenting our society, or is there merit in the constant barrage of information?

DK: There is certainly a higher demand on people¹s attention than ever before. And with the rise of the Internet it has become incredibly easy and cheap to distribute information. It is hard to navigate at times. But, we¹re still in the relative infancy of the Information Age, and with greater access to knowledge, comes greater wisdom and power. That can only be a good thing.

And, with more things competing for our attention, the demand for quality content is going up.

LG: What writers inspire you? Have you read anything lately that you’d recommend?

DK: I have a wide diet of reading interests. Most recently I enjoyed Code Name God by Mani Bhaumik. One of my favorite contemporary writers is Nick Hornby.

LG: What’s next for you? Is there a sequel, or related project, planned for a future point?

DK: We have releases slated for October 2007 and October 2008. One will be the Intellectual Devotional on American History and the other will focus on popular culture. We¹re really excited about the chance to build out the series and delve deeper into specific subject areas.

We¹ve just signed agreements in 3 new languages, and Renaissance Audio is publishing audio book, which is due out this summer.

LG: Aside from matters reading and writing related, what makes life interesting for you? Do you have any hobbies or passions you use to step out of your busy life?

DK: I really enjoy illustration. In fact, I illustrated 1/3 of the book. My job running a software company rarely allows me that artistic outlet. But, with two babies and a grueling work schedule, I have very limited time.

LG: As a public library employee I’m all but obliged to ask, what role have public libraries played in your appreciation of books and writing?

DK: My dad was an educational psychologist. So, growing up in New York state, accessing our local libraries was of great importance. I spent many hours in the stacks exploring ideas and satisfying my curiosity.

Thanks very much to David Kidder (and vicariously to Noah Oppenheim) for the brilliant book, and for their generosity with their time.

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