Discussions on the art and craft of research

Category: Inspired by the Book (page 2 of 2)

Inspired by the Book: Mostly Nonfiction

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

An interview with Michael Dreimiller, who manages the Digital Scholarship & Curriculum Center. Mike has been at Connecticut College since 2000. Mike’s hobbies are playing vintage base ball and genealogical research. Mike’s doctor prescribed reading every night to manage a problem with his back. Mike has a Goodreads profile.

What books are on your night stand?

For Black History Month I’ll be reading “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story”, “The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition”, and “The Negro Leagues are Major Leagues: Essays and Research for Overdue Recognition”. Up next after those is “The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity” before I move to my pile of baseball-related books for baseball season.

What’s the last great book you read?

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” by Robert A. Caro (1974).  I shouldn’t have waited so long to read it.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

From “The Elements of Eloquence”: Adjectives in English have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-color-origin-material-purpose Noun.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? Any which you avoid?

Early baseball research, historical nonfiction (Erik Larson), math, genealogy, and science (genetics, medicine, astronomy). I have to force myself to read at least one fiction book a year.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

In grade school I read every biography in the school library and my family’s World Book Encyclopedia (1970) set. In middle school I read Alistair MacLean and Agatha Christie. In high school I read science fiction – Isaaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Frank Herbert.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?

Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap” by Mehrsa Baradaran (2017)

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

I rarely read fiction now but I make an exception for Andy Weir’s books (“The Martian”, “Project Hail Mary”, “Artemis”). I enjoy his scientific realism.

What books might we be surprised to find on your shelves?

A Short History of Drunkenness: How, Why, Where, and When Humankind Has Gotten Merry from the Stone Age to the Present” by Mark Forsyth. (I don’t drink alcohol.)

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

I finally read “The Phantom Tollbooth” after the author, Norton Juster, passed away last year.

Inspired by the Book: Ferocious Honesty and Gorgeous Writing

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

An interview with Denis Ferhatović, Associate Professor of English at Connecticut College. He has published on translations of Beowulf into four languages, detachable penises in Exeter riddles and fabliaux, and Edwin Morgan’s queer sci-fi medievalism. His first book appeared in 2019.

What books are on your night stand?

Khadija Abdalla Bajaber, The House of Rust; Annemarie Schimell, Şark Kedisi (trans. Firuzan Gürbuz Gerhold); Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass; Jillian Hernandez, Aesthetics of Excess; Dubravka Ugrešić, Muzej bezuvjetne predaje; Marina Tsvetaeva, Milestones (trans. Robin Kemball); and René Goscinny/Sempé, El pequeño Nicolás (trans. Esther Benítez).

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Marie de France’s Lais. The Thousand and One Nights. Constantine Cavafy’s poetry.

Are there any classic novels that you only recently read for the first time?

Not recently. The summer when I was trying to finish my dissertation, I read several canonical, dead-white works for the first time: James Joyce’s Ulysses; Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (I liked it better than Ulysses); and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (a tremendous book worthy of all the praise).

What book, if any, most influenced your decision to become a medievalist?

Mak Dizdar’s The Stone Sleeper.

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? Any which do you avoid?

I love large polyphonic novels, especially the historical kind that wears its intricate research lightly. Lyrical poetry. Graphic novels. Generically hybrid texts like the poetic/prose works of Bernardine Evaristo. Mysteries. Anything queer. Speculative fiction with a sharp satirical edge like Aux Etats-Unis d’Afrique by Abdourahman Waberi. Campus novels (but it’s hard when you live in one!). Food writing. I am not drawn to a lot of nonfiction, and I avoid anything “written” by famous people like politicians, their spouses and hangers-on (more likely ghostwritten). Also, I think YA is not for me.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I liked most of the required reading in my Yugoslav elementary school days. I have to single out Gianni Rodari who is finally available in English (Telephone Tales, trans. Anthony Shugaar). He made my brain explode with his science-fiction adaptations of well-known fairytales. Two other important books were Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three authors, dead or alive, do you invite?

Dead: Marie de France, Margery Kempe, and Emily Dickinson. Alive: Dubravka Ugrešić, Rumena Bužarovska, and Lana Bastašić.

What’s the last book you read that made you laugh? The last book you read that made you cry? The last book you read that made you furious?

I could not stop laughing while reading Brontez Purnell’s 100 Boyfriends. Sang Young Park’s Love in the Big City (trans. Anton Hur) had some very funny moments and it at times made me cry, too. Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous and Jean Chen Ho’s Fiona and Jane made me furious for the same reasons: their ferocious honesty and gorgeous writing made me realize how much useless, empty discourse there is all around us, every day.

What do you plan to read next?

Oh, I am not sure quite yet. I need to finish Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s The House of Rust first (an East African Muslim ecofeminist fable that is part Miyazaki, part Melville, and part The Thousand and One Nights). Maybe Sulaiman Addonia’s Silence Is My Mother Tongue or Daphne Palasi Andreades’s Brown Girls.

Inspired by the Book: Sensitivity and Society

Inspired by the Book is a series of interviews with Connecticut College folks about their literary lives. Inspiration comes from The New York Times Book Review series called By the Book.

What follows is an interview with Aruna Gopalan, who works with the Cambridge Public Library as an associate for Youth Services. Aruna graduated from Connecticut College in 2021 with a degree in History. When not surrounded by books, Aruna says “I like to cook experimental recipes and explore the cities and communities around me.”

What’s the last book you read that made you laugh? The last book you read that made you cry? The last book you read that made you furious?

Ants Among Elephants by Sujata Gidla to all the questions above. I’m in awe of the sensitivity with which Gidla writes her family’s history and how it intertwines with the stories of larger societies and communities. It combined so many of the things I hold in high regard – history being reclaimed and told from the bottom-up, family/community centered stories and complicated, nuanced perspectives on how caste, class and gender play out in society. 

Who is your favorite novelist of all time?

I would read James Baldwin describe how he brushed his teeth. Most humans don’t live the epic saga-like lives that a majority of fiction protagonists live through. We experience joys and sorrows in altogether quieter, more introspective ways. There is something about the way he writes the most mundane, ordinary things – experiences which are so often discounted in literature in favor of large, dramatic moments – which gives that mundanity the meaning it carries for me in my own life.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

I don’t quite know if it’s a favorite yet, but I greatly enjoyed The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri. It set up all the elements to begin a good trilogy – a defined world, a well-rounded cast of characters and protagonists that one can actually care about. It also pushes me to wonder at the sudden emergence of so many queer fantasy novels with similar settings – a lesbian couple set across class boundaries and vague anti-monarchy sentiments. If I had a nickel for every time I saw that dynamic in a new release, I’d have three nickels. That’s not a lot, but it’s still strange. I’m hoping Suri is able to avoid the pitfalls of such a setting going forward (the “anti-monarchy” to “monarchy is fine with a woman on the throne” pipeline particularly bothers me), and I am personally keeping my eyes peeled for the sequel. 

Was there a book and author that particularly inspired you?

I hold Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed as a hallmark of what fiction can achieve. Everyone who is anyone to me has probably heard me talking about this book at least once, trying to peddle it to them in increasingly creative ways. Le Guin redefined what purpose fiction could have for me, and I was lucky to have found The Dispossessed in a time when I was largely growing bored and tired of reading the same old epic fantasies. I still remember a speech that Le Guin gave in 2014, where she championed science fiction as a place to reimagine the world – to create worlds that weren’t drowned in the inescapable reaches of capitalism. I didn’t give much stock to the kind of hope fiction could create until I read this book. 

Disappointed, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? 

As a person big into urban fantasy, I really expected to like Gaiman’s Neverwhere a lot more. I still read through it, and still found the world-building incredible, but 90% of the characters were frankly flat and didn’t inspire any level of care or engagement in me. Urban fantasy is an amazing way of getting to know cities, both past and present, but I enjoy Gaiman’s children’s books a lot more than his adult works for some reason. Maybe I’ve exhausted my capacity for profound verses.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

I’m most drawn towards character-driven stories. Unless I have a good grasp on what makes the characters I’m reading about tick, I can’t connect to the story overall. While a well built character will suck me into the book, a well built world will keep me around too! Especially in fantasy based fiction, knowing the socio-political organization of the world helps me situate the plot within it much better. The potential for a well built world is what perhaps first attracted me to Harry Potter as a child, and the lack of that background structure is what started drawing me away towards the end of the series. 

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

This might be a bit of a flakey answer, but I can’t imagine a good book only striking one of those chords and not the other. Too many academic books that talk about the outrageous things in the most calm, dry, “isn’t this interesting?” kind of tone. Especially in cases when people are writing stories about injustices, whether real or fictional, I want to see what investment the author has in the issue. If the author truly cares about the subject of their writing, I believe that translates to the emotions exhibited in and induced by the text.

What do you plan to read next?

As a person big into horror movies and shows, I’ve been trying to consume more horror based books! I think the written word is perhaps the hardest medium for this genre to be expressed in, and that the lack of jumpscares or on-screen gore really forces authors to make horror about things altogether more terrifying: human emotions and relationships. After No Place for Monsters by Kory Meritt, a children’s graphic novel that I’ve recommended to young readers coming in looking for horror, I have a copy of Nothing But Blackened Teeth by Cassandra Shaw waiting for me on the holdshelf.

Describe your ideal reading experience (when, where, what, how).

I’ve been trying to be better about it, but I think most of my reading happens in sporadic bursts during free times. This often ends up cutting into the “revenge sleep procrastination” territory if I get really sucked into a book at night. I used to be much more flexible about where and how I read – as a child I infuriated my mother by reading while I ate or while I walked from place to place. I’ve evolved to like reading in quieter circumstances where I can really give the material I’m consuming 110% of my attention. 

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