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.