Bookmark: Jeff Stark

Between his work as registered principal and partner in an investment advisory firm and his role as president of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education, you would think Jeff Stark doesn’t have much time for reading.

In fact, he is a bit of a bookworm, devouring fare ranging from money-savvy publications to historical nonfiction to the occasional thriller.

The poet, essayist and playwright Ishmael Reed once wrote, “One of the joys of reading is the ability to plug into the shared wisdom of mankind.”

Since receiving an iPad for Father’s Day, Mr. Stark has been plugging into this intellectual legacy via a new, electronic format. He had been coveting the touch-screen computer because it seemed perfect for his business. Surprisingly, it has proved perfect for the business of reading.

“I can instantaneously go from one book to another,” he marveled. “I’m reading like crazy.”

War of the words

Lately, Mr. Stark has been on a military history binge, reading books like Eric Greitens’ memoir, The Heart and the Fist: The education of a humanitarian, the making of a Navy SEAL, and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

Unbroken is the best-selling true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner-turned-bombardier who, after his bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1943, survived a remarkable 47 days on a raft before being captured by the Japanese. After more than 2 years in brutal prison camps, he returned home a haunted man, attempting to drink away the painful memories.

In 1949, Mr. Zamperini attended a crusade led by evangelist Billy Graham and became a born-again Christian. The epiphany led Mr. Zamperini to become a motivational speaker and to forgive his captors, even serving as a torchbearer in the 1998 Nagano Olympics.

Mr. Stark has also used his iPad to pore over Band of Brothers: E Company 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagles Nest, which Steven Spielberg turned into a popular 10-part miniseries. Author Stephen E. Ambrose served as the 1999 commencement speaker for Claremont McKenna College.

“What all these books are about are tremendous survival stories—acts of courage that go beyond what most people can endure,” Mr. Stark said. “There’s something unique about their personalities that allows them to go through these experiences. It’s a tremendous example of the human spirit.”

Suicidal surfers, murderous celebrities

Mr. Stark has enjoyed reading about another kind of courage—the sheer, devil-may-care audacity of the extreme sportsman—in The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean.

He has an old-fashioned hard copy of the 2010 book by Susan Casey, which documents the largest and most destructive waves in existence and those who aspire to ride them. Ms. Casey introduces readers to the unusual tribe that—following in the footsteps of Laird Hamilton, the first surfer to board rogue waves of 70 and 80 feet—travels the globe in search of the perfect 100-foot wave.

“It’s a fascinating study of water, that asks, ‘Why is it an anxiety-provoking thing for some people, and for other people, their whole lives revolve around it?’” Mr. Stark related.

While he isn’t one of these arguably suicidal surfers, Mr. Stark is fond of hanging 10. He noted there was a board in his car. Whenever possible, he heads for the San Onofre area to unwind via some surfing.

When channel surfing, Mr. Stark may switch to a new program when he comes across conservative Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, because he finds many points of philosophical disagreement. Giving credit where it is due, though, he says he has enjoyed Mr. O’Reilly’s Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever.

Mr. Booth, described in the book promo as “a charismatic ladies man and impenitent racist,” was a famous stage actor as well as a Confederate sympathizer when he took aim at the 16th president of the United States.

“It’s almost like Tom Cruise murdering the president,” marveled Mr. Stark. “He had that type of fame.”

Not everything he reads is a lesson in history or earth science. Mr. Stark whiles away his day dealing with finances and spends a considerable amount of time clicking through items on Yahoo Finance or thumbing through publications like Investor’s Business Daily or the Wall Street Journal.

“When I get home, I don’t want to read about the economy or companies—I want to get away from that,” he said. “Reading is an escape.”

When Mr. Stark wants to get away from it all, he gravitates to adventuresome stories like Dan Brown’s novels (The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons) and Robert Ludlum’s series following secret agent Jason Bourne.

“He does such a good job of pulling all these pieces of history into his books,” Mr. Stark said of Mr. Brown. “I’ve been to these places and seen these markers, so it’s interesting.”

While he enjoys a good yarn, Mr. Stark really admires strong writing. He finds himself reading Ernest Hemingway’s works like The Old Man and the Sea again and again. They are always a source of wonder.

 “I find his style really interesting. He says so much with few words. How do you do that?” Mr. Stark said, before venturing his own answer: “Rewriting and rewriting.”

It’s notable that the president of the CUSD board wasn’t much of a reader as a kid. He was more into sports. The passion for the written word would come later.

With new innovations, the lure of books is only becoming stronger. Mr. Stark loves the fact that he doesn’t need a nightlight on read on his iPad. His wife, who used to beg him to end his marathon reading sessions, is likely pretty pleased too.

“I was sneaking around,” he said. “Now I can read late into the night.”

—Sarah Torribio


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