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Reading Recommendations from our English Faculty

Is reading more in the new year one of your resolutions? Our upper division English faculty recently shared some of their favorite reads. Enjoy their recommendations along with a brief description of what makes the book so engaging.

Dr. Karen Hiles ’95: Circe, Madeline Miller. This novel is a retelling of Homer's Odyssey (and a few other Greek myths) from Circe's perspective. The language is gorgeous but accessible, and Miller's engagement with existing stories and characters is ingenious. I didn't want this book to end; I wish I could read it again for the first time. If you know The Odyssey well, this novel is a real treat; even if you only have time for a refresher on Wikipedia, Miller's achievement is sure to be a good read.

Lucy Stockdale: Beloved, by Toni Morrison, is a masterful work by one of the best storytellers. Morrison not only helps readers connect to a painful part of American history, but she also encourages them to struggle with some difficult subjects. This is a book whose intention is to disturb, inviting readers to think critically about American slavery and the impact it had on so many. In this fictional work, you are swallowed by Morrison's beautifully painful imagery that makes you hold your breath. In honor of an amazing woman, and my favorite author, who passed away this August, Beloved earns the spot of one of my top favorite novels. 

Matt Rymzo: The Magus, John Fowles. If you are seeking a mindbender, look no further. A suspenseful, psychological thriller, the novel centers on Nicholas Urfe, a young Englishman who accepts a teaching position on a remote Greek island, where he befriends a local millionaire. The friendship soon evolves into a deadly game, in which fantasy and reality are deliberately manipulated, and Nicholas finds that he must fight not only for his sanity but for his very survival. It is long but worth the commitment.    

Sam Salerno: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. A sublime meditation on time set in the Swiss Alps prior to WW 1. It has stayed with me forever. One quote I carry around is "For the sake of goodness and love, man shall let death have no sovereignty over his thoughts." A fundamental question is whether to lose oneself in the timeless world of ideas or to lose oneself in time.  Yeats' perfection of the life or of the art, to put it another way. The novel is glorious. :)

Erin Peterson: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is one of those novels that gets better every time I read it. I chose this book as a favorite to read with students because the novel is about self-revelation through storytelling and the changing inflections of dreams as we age and develop. Students tend to love grappling with the language—addressing the nuances of voice in Hurston's use of free indirect discourse—and finding relatability with the themes and the constraints that the main character, Janie, experiences. 

David Schmittgens: Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison. I am a big fan of Morrison’s works, and Song of Solomon is my favorite. The characters – at least at the beginning of the story – are all wounded and flawed. However, as the narrative unfolds, the complexity of the characters is revealed and you begin to understand how collective generational trauma shapes who they become. This novel, epic in scope, covers the period from the end of the Civil War to the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. This novel had a profound impact on how I viewed literature as a high school student, and it still inspires me (and my students) with its elegance, depth, and moments of transcendence. 

Mashadi Matabane: Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell is a fab coming-of-age novel following a stressful event in the life of an Ozarks born-and-bred white teenager named Ree. Ree has to step up for herself and her family in order to survive after her crank-cooking father disappears, putting their family home and land at risk of being snatched out from underneath them when he fails to show up for his bond hearing. On a cruel deadline, Ree has to look low and lower to find her father in time! It’s a pessimistic and optimistic snapshot looking into one corner  of a population typically overlooked: white poor people—as written by someone who grew up in the Ozarks. 

Aimee Bates: The Bright Hour, Nina Riggs. You have to be feeling a little brave to read this memoir: a collection of gorgeous vignettes written by Riggs, a poet and mother of two young children, while she navigates terminal breast cancer. If you’re looking for a sob-worthy read, this fits the bill. I love it because these sweet little moments create something big and real and raw. For me, it’s a startling reminder of the power of writing for both the reader and the writer: the privilege of knowing another’s story so intimately, the bravery and urgency of giving language to experience. And it’s even funny!