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MFA director and Austen aficionado

Malcolm Rogers

Malcom Rogers

Malcom Rogers

It’s been nearly 20 years since Malcolm Rogers arrived at the Museum of Fine Arts from London and began shaking the institution up. He’s far from done. Case in point. The glam fashion photo exhibit “Mario Testino: In Your Face” up through Feb. 3.

BOOKS: What are you reading currently?

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Rogers: I have been revisiting scenes of my childhood so to speak. One of my favorite authors is Jane Austen. I’ve just finished reading “Pride and Prejudice” again. I’ll move on to “Sense and Sensibility.”

BOOKS: How many Austen books will you read in this run?

Rogers: I think just these two at this stage, though I always have “Mansfield Park” in my sights. I try to read that every few years. Recently, because I’ve been traveling a lot, I’ve been reading old favorites but in electronic form. I revisited Stendhal’s “The Red and The Black’’ and “The Count of Monte of Cristo” by Alexandre Duma, which is quite a read.

BOOKS: Does it change the experience to read them electronically?

Rogers: Yes, I can see the print better.

BOOKS: When did you first start reading Jane Austen?

Rogers: When I went to university. I had an irrational prejudice against Austen. I thought she wouldn’t be interesting, but then I couldn’t put “Pride and Prejudice” down.

BOOKS: Is there any other author you like as much?

Rogers: Stendhal is the author I return to again and again. “The Red and The Black’’ and “The Charterhouse of Parma” are my romantic favorites. They have these dashing heroes doing wonderful and stupid things.

BOOKS: Have you always been a devoted reader?

Rogers: I was compulsive reader when I was young. Now, because I work quite hard and am busy in the evenings, there’s less time for reading except on trains or planes. I’ve become what I call an “active browser,” particularly with history or art history. That may seem shockingly superficial, but it gives you the flavor of a particular artist or period. It’s a rather highly selective approach, but it’s similar to how visitors dart around the museum.

BOOKS: What are some of the books you browsed recently that grabbed you?

Rogers: The catalogue raisonné by Judy Egerton, “George Stubbs, Painter,” the English animal painter. No one will read a catalogue raisonné from beginning to end.

BOOKS: What else do you like to read?

Rogers: I read a lot of poetry. My favorite poets are Thomas Hardy, W.H. Auden, Alexander Pope, and Lord Byron, who I think is underestimated by a lot of people. I regularly read poetry in bed not to put me to sleep but because it forces you read to aloud. I think poems should be read out loud. I’ve also been reading a memoir by Rosamond Bernier, “Some of My Lives.” She’s a famous lecturer on art, who has been to Boston a lot. She seems to have been everywhere at the right time to have met Matisse, Miró, and Giacometti.

BOOKS: Do you read artist biographies?

Rogers: About four months ago, I read Christopher Simon Sykes’s “David Hockney,” who’s an artist I like a lot. I enjoyed the biography, but it’s maddening because that’s only the first volume.

BOOKS: Do you collect books?

Rogers: Not seriously. I do have a few old books in wonderful leather binding. An interesting thing about secondhand bookstores is that you can find books signed by authors that the shop hasn’t noticed so you get that little frisson of discovery, of something for nothing. One thing I’m rather proud of is a volume of Somerset Maugham short stories autographed by him.

BOOKS: Did moving here have an influence on your reading?

Rogers: Not really. But what has happened as I’ve gotten older is that I’ve returned to my English literature roots. You know, I don’t go back to England so often, but you can always return to your cultural roots through these extraordinary books. And they last forever.

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