Glenn Reynolds is proud of his geek roots.
“I was a geek before being a geek was cool,” says Reynolds, the University of Tennessee law professor who has become one of the nation’s foremost political bloggers through his Instapundit.com Web site.
In high school, “There’s no question that I was living the geek lifestyle,” he says. “That was before people realized that some of those geeks were going to get rich.
“Nothing like a Bill Gates billionaire to make it seem more appealing to people.”
Reynolds, 49, hasn’t made Gates’ billions, but his success as a professor, blogger and author caught the attention of the Maryville City Schools Foundation, which last Saturday presented him with the Starlight Award for Distinguished Alumni.
“It’s kind of weird because I have to tell you not once when I was walking around Maryville High did I ever say, ‘Oh yeah, they’ll be having me back here to give me an award,’” says Reynolds, who is the Beauchamp Brogan Distinguished Professor of Law at UT. “And the other side of it is, I think if you had asked if I cared if I got an award, I probably would have said, ‘Eh, no big deal.’ It was actually surprisingly kind of touching. It was a bigger deal to me than I thought it would be.”
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Reynolds lived in Knoxville from fourth through seventh grade and in Maryville from eighth grade through high school. His father, Charles Reynolds, now of Friendsville, was a university professor, and the family had moved frequently for his career. After Glenn Reynolds’ parents divorced, his mother, Glenda Childress, earned a degree in library science and started looking for work.
“There were a number of jobs that she might have ended up with,” Reynolds says. “Sometimes I think how different my life would have been if she’d taken the job in Sitka, Alaska, or even the job in Atlanta. But we went to Maryville.”
While his mother worked as librarian at Sam Houston Elementary School (she retired a couple of years ago and now lives in Knoxville), he started eighth grade at Maryville Junior High School.
“I was used to being the new kid because I’d moved around a lot as a faculty brat,” says Reynolds. “I didn’t particularly like being the new kid, but I was used to it. People in Maryville were just a lot nicer than other places where I’d been the new kid. I wound up a lot happier there and making a lot more friends than I would have expected -- a lot of good friends I’m in touch with on a regular basis today.
“I have thought many times how lucky I was that’s where we ended up.”
Reynolds made himself at home quickly in Maryville.
“I edited the student newspaper in junior high,” he says. “I was in the national spelling bee. I actually won the Blount County championship and then went to the regionals and won that, and went to Washington, where I did not win, but I had a good time.
“Junior high was still junior high -- it wasn’t paradise, but it was a lot nicer than Bearden Junior High was, where I went to seventh grade.”
At Maryville High, Reynolds worked for the school newspaper and was photographer for the yearbook, The Appalachian.
“I was a complete geek, involved in all the geek clubs -- the Latin Club, the Chess Club,” he says. “I did three years of Latin. It was not really useless exactly, but I studied several languages, and it’s the only one that’s stuck with me. How often do you get to strike up a conversation in Latin?”
He may have been a geek, but he wasn’t immune to the opposite sex. He helped put together plays for Latin Club so that the school would send a large contingent to the Latin Club convention. And he made sure to have “a big chorus line of cute girls.”
Reynolds says he and his friends launched model rockets and played war games such as Risk and Blitzkrieg. He learned about riflery through a program at the Teen Center. And he was a bookworm.
“I read a lot of science fiction,” says Reynolds, who has served as executive chairman of the National Space Society and as a member of the White House Advisory Panel on Space Policy.
Reynolds also got involved with acting as a teen.
“I acted at the Smoky Mountain Passion Play one summer,” he recalls. “I played an apostle, and I was understudy for ‘thief on the right.’ Crucifixion is no picnic, even when they don’t actually drive a nail through your palm. It’s really not that much fun.
“The next year I worked in the ticket office of the Smoky Mountain Passion Play, which paid much better.”
Reynolds says he made good grades, but he wasn’t valedictorian or salutatorian.
“I was in the top 10 percent, and I was voted Most Studious by my classmates, though that was a joke,” he says. “I don’t know where I ranked in the class, but I was certainly not at the top.
“I suffered from uneven motivation at that stage. If I liked the class, I got really good grades, and if I didn’t like the class, I got by. Maryville was fairly hard as high school goes. I did have teachers who pushed me and, indeed, would give me a lousy grade to push me.”
After graduating from Maryville High, Reynolds went to UT, where he was in the College Scholars program. He already knew he wanted to go to law school, so he devised a curriculum that included economics, political science, anthropology and science and technology, and he interned for the state legislature. He also took business courses, such as accounting.
“The person who encouraged me to do that was Jack Reese,” says Reynolds. “He was my adviser. He said that when he was in college, he never studied any of that stuff because, he said, ‘I’m going to be an English guy. Why do I need accounting? And then, when I ended up being chancellor of the university, dealing with financial stuff all the time, I would think to myself, “I wish I had taken some accounting.’”
Reynolds earned his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1985. He joined the faculty of the UT College of Law in 1989. He received the Harold C. Warner Outstanding Faculty Scholarship Award in 1991 and the W. Allen Separk Outstanding Faculty Scholarship Award in 1998.
“For 10 years I was the youngest person on the faculty,” he says. “All of a sudden, a lot of the older guys have died or retired, and now I’m the older one.
“That’s OK. I get the office with the couch in it, and I don’t have to teach when I don’t want to.”
Reynolds has plenty to keep him busy besides teaching. In addition to being a husband, father, author and contributor to Popular Mechanics and The Washington Examiner, among other publications, he produces a weekly podcast with his wife, forensic psychologist Helen Smith, and he is a seriously prolific blogger.
He started blogging in August 2001 when few people knew what a “Web log” was.
“One of the things that’s changed over time with the blogosphere, in the very early days when I first started, people were friendlier,” says Reynolds. “There was this sense that there weren’t very many people blogging, and so I think there was a sense that whatever we disagreed on with politics or whatever, the fact that we were all blogging gave us more in common than we differed.
“That lasted until sometime in 2002, and then it seemed like it broke down, and people started attacking each other.
“I try to minimize that on my blog. You might not agree with what I say, but I try to keep the invective level low.”
Reynolds says he spends “too much” time on the computer, but he can’t help himself.
“I like reading blogs, generally speaking,” he says. “I tend to avoid the ones where there’s a lot of name-calling. Even when I agree with the people doing the name-calling, I find it off-putting. But it is at least conversation, and I do like that.
“I like it that more bloggers are starting to do more original news reporting. That’s a trend that I hope we’ll see more of. There are bloggers who are making an excellent living doing original news reporting, but there aren’t that many of them, and the question is, how many will the market will bear?
“For everybody like Michael Yon, who flies around in helicopters in Afghanistan and then uploads a 10,000-word post loaded with photos, there are a whole lot of bloggers who couldn’t do that if they tried, like me. How many Michael Yons will the market support? Probably about two. And then there are two other guys who do part of what he does.”
Bloggers can fill a big gap in the news media, says Reynolds.
“Sometimes he’s practically the only person covering Afghanistan,” Reynolds says of Yon. “The newspapers aren’t doing a great job.
“There was one time in, like, 2005, I had two readers who were there. One of them was in the Army, and the other was a professor from Boston University who was doing some kind of development aid thing. They were literally correspondents in the old sense. They wrote me about what was going on and sent pictures.
“There was a brief period where, somebody told me, I had more correspondents in Afghanistan than anybody else. Everybody was using stringers, and there was, like, one New York Times guy for the whole country.”
Traditional media outlets have the wrong idea about bloggers, he says.
“People act like bloggers hate traditional media and want them to go under, and I think that’s completely wrong,” he says. “They’re the disappointed fans.
“They’re like the friends of the alcoholic wondering, ‘When are you going to hit bottom and turn around?’ They’re not people who wish ill; they’re just people who can’t understand why they keep screwing up and making newspapers worse.”
The subjectivity of bloggers is more honest than the purported objectivity of mainstream news outlets, he says.
“That’s one thing about blogging,” he says. “They definitely wear their biases on their sleeve. You can understand an individual bias, whereas an institutional slant is sometimes harder to see through.
“I make no pretense that I’m offering a fair and balanced view of what’s going on in the world. It’s not a news service. If you want a news service, go to a news-service site. I write about what interests me, and I’m a weird guy, so what interests me is going to be weird stuff.
“If that suits you, you can read my blog, and if it doesn’t there’s something like 200 million other blogs -- find one you like better.”
On Instapundit, Reynolds weighs in on everything from celebrities to space to politics. But it turns out that he’s nearly as clueless about how to solve the health-care problem as anyone else.
“From a Libertarian perspective, I would love it if you could decouple health care from employment because you see so many people who keep a job that they don’t like for the insurance,” he says. “It would be a lot more flexible, and people would be a lot happier if they could change jobs without worrying about it.
“On the other hand, I have to say, I’ve looked at the government’s track record on providing all kinds of other services, and I’m not convinced that I want the government in my health care, either.”