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Books for Valentine’s Day
Books we Love!
By Jewel Blanchard, Senior English Major
With Valentine’s Day upon us, we can all reflect on what we love in our lives, and the English Program faculty has done no different. In this Q&A-style interview, Dr. Margaret Perrow, Dr. Diana Maltz, and Dr. Alma Rosa Alvarez all discuss the books they love, from their “first loves” to those special books who have stood the test of time!
Jewel Blanchard (JB): Tell us about the first book you fell in love with. How old were you, and why did you fall in love?
Margaret Perrow (MP): I think the first book I fell in love with—at least, as an independent reader—was Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I must have been about 10 years old, and I both identified with Harriet (she was nerdy, sturdy, writerly, and intrepid), and envied her for things I knew nothing about (she lived in New York City and was able to maneuver in an environment full of apartments with dumbwaiters, rooftop skylights, and busy city streets). Harriet was observant and crafty (despite wearing a red sweatshirt), and she had a notebook that she took everywhere along with her signature tomato sandwiches. To this day, I think affectionately of Harriet as I assemble my regular cheese-and-lettuce sandwich in the morning. I think it was that combination of connection to a character I identified with, while being different from her in some fundamental ways that stretched me, that made me fall in love with Harriet for a lifetime.
Pictured above: “Harriet the Spy” book cover. Text reads: Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The zany adventures of a child spy. A Dell Yearling Book.
“I think it was that combination of connection to a character I identified with, while being different from her in some fundamental ways that stretched me, that made me fall in love with Harriet for a lifetime”
– Margaret Perrow
Diana Maltz (DM): I remember being very young – I may not even have been able to read yet— and loving a book that my parents’ friends gave me as a gift. It was an edition of one of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales and it was produced in the 1960s in Japan. The cover was a holograph and the illustrations were 3-D images of puppets. It was really mesmerizing. I think this kind of technology in book production was revolutionary at the time. I bought the book on e-bay a few years ago so I could look at it again.
Pictured Above: “The Little Tin Soldier” book cover, with the 3-D shifting illustration. Image via Nishikata Film Review. Text reads: “The Little Tin Soldier by Hans Christian Anderson; a Golden Book.”
Alma Rosa Alvarez (AA): The first book I fell in love with was Hurray for the City. I am sure it was one of those Little Golden books. I remember being five or six. I was just learning English. I loved that book because it described all the cool stuff that happens in a city, from the construction of buildings to people swarming the streets. Even today, so long as I am not stuck in traffic, I love the movement and vibrancy in cities. I felt like the excitement the narrator had for the city was contagious.
JB: Tell us about a book you’re “crushing on”- a book you have your eye on and might be curious or excited to read.
MP: I can’t wait to read Sarah Nuttall’s Entanglement: Literary and Cultural Reflections on Post-Apartheid. Nuttall is a professor of literary and cultural studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. Her work explores the intersection of contradictory (but interdependent) forces such as media, literature, politics, xenophobia, violence, and hope. I’m especially interested in how such forces manifest in contemporary South African literature. I actually think my interest in this literary lens may be traced back to Harriet the Spy, and her keen desire to know human experience from multiple perspectives different from my own.
Pictured above: Entanglement book cover. Image via Amazon.com. Text reads: “Entanglement; Literary and cultural reflections on post-apartheid; Sarah Nuttall.”
DM: In my Irish literature class, I teach The Wonder by Emma Donoghue (which was just made into a movie starring Florence Pugh this year). Donoghue has a new novel out called The Haven. In the 6th century, a priest and two monks row to a small island guided by a dream that the priest has had to begin a new monastery there. They encounter a very harsh, unforgiving landscape and the young monk is stretched between his realization of how dangerous this is and his obedience to the priest and the faith. Every review of the book says you can’t put it down.
Pictured above: The Wonder book cover. Image via Goodreads. Text reads: “the Wonder; ‘Powerful, compulsively readable’ -Irish Times; Emma Donoghue.”
AA: I am “crushing” on Violence Girl by Alice Bag. Alice Bag was the singer of an L.A. punk band called the Bags. My husband really enjoyed reading about how this Mexican American woman, Alicia “Alice” Armendariz becomes part of the L.A. punk scene. He read me some passages from her memoir, and I thought, I want to know more about this bad-ass woman. This will be the book I read as soon as summer starts.
Pictured above: Violence Girl book cover. Image via Vinyl2books. Text reads: “‘Alice Bag… paved the way for an entire generation of female musicians. Inspired by her ferocious performance style, her confrontational, provocative attitude and of course, her great and powerful music’ – Network Awesome; East L.A. Rage to Hollywood Stage – A Chicana punk story; Violence Girl Alice Bag.”
JB: Tell us about a book that you’ve recently been enamored with? Why?
MP: Over winter break, I read and loved Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell. Her writing captures inner thought so beautifully, and I couldn’t put the book down till the final (perfect!) scene.
Pictured above: Hamnet book cover. Image by Jen Campbell, via TOAST magazine. Text reads: “Hamnet; Maggie O’Farrell; ‘A rare talent to enthrall’ – The Sunday Times.”
DM: I just completed a recent novel by Rosie Garland called The Night Brother. It takes place in Manchester, England in the 1880s. Each night, Edie, the daughter of a pub owner, goes to bed and her brother Gnome awakens in her place and has his own adventures. The narration moves back and forth between their voices, as each wants control of this body. The book is provocative in its treatment of gender identity and reminds me a little of historical novels by Sarah Waters.
Pictured above: The Night Brother book cover. Image by Eric Karl Anderson via the Lonesome Reader. Text reads: “The Night Brother; Rosie Garland; ‘A tumble of poetry, desire, and passion… intriguing and delicious’ – Stella Duffy.”
AA: More recently I really enjoyed reading Obit by Victoria Chang, for the second time. It may seem morbid, but I like the ways she describes the death of ordinary things as well as the death of people (figuratively—like how a person becomes a different person with dementia or after a stroke—and literally, when a person passes). One of her poems has the following lines: “My Mother’s Teeth—died twice, once in 1965, all pulled out from gum disease. Once again on August 3, 2015. The fake teeth sit in a box in the garage. When she died, I touched them, smelled them, thought I heard a whimper.”
Pictured above: Obit book cover. Image via Amazon.com. Text reads: “Obit; Victoria Chang; Poems.”
JB: Tell us about a book that has stood the test of time, which you’ve loved throughout the years!
MP: That’s a hard one because there are so many books I return to again and again… As an example, Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s collection Death of a Naturalist keeps drawing me back in. Heaney won the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature. Death of a Naturalist was published in 1966, just four years after I was born, but the poems in that little volume seem timeless to me, especially in light of our awareness of climate change today.
Pictured above: Death of a Naturalist book cover. Image via Amazon.com. Text Reads: “Seamus Heaney; Death of a Naturalist.”
DM: This is probably the hardest question of the bunch. I have so many books that I love. A stand-by is a novel written in 1913-14 called Sinister Street by the English writer Compton MacKenzie. It has a little of everything: it is a university novel, an aesthetic novel about discovering taste and beauty, a novel about learning one’s origins (as the main character is illegitimate), a novel about religious faith, and, in places, a slum novel (hence the title). It even has a ‘fallen’ woman whom the protagonist knew as an adolescent; he searches all over London for her in order to help her. It is over 800 pages long, so I like to dip into it on a random page and get lost in it every now and then. A fun fact: MacKenzie liked the novel’s characters so much that he carried some over into later novels.
Pictured above: Sinister Street book cover. Image via Amazon. Text reads: “Compton MacKenzie; Sinister Street; (Vol.1&2).”
AA: One of the books that has stood the test of time is Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. I have an emotional connection to this book. It was the first Chicano book I ever read. I remember crying while I was reading it, back in the day, because up until that point, I had never read something representing our cultural experience. Revisiting it now, I am able to more clearly see some problematic gender representations. However, the inquisitive nature of the protagonist, the nobility of Ultima the folk healer, and the descriptions of the New Mexico landscapes make it a winner for me.
Pictured above: Bless Me, Ultima book cover. Image via Wikipedia. Text reads: “The classic by Rudolfo Anaya; Author of Albuquerque; Bless Me, Ultima; ‘One of the nation’s foremost Chicano literary artists’ -Denver Post.”
“I remember crying while I was reading it, back in the day, because up until that point, I had never read something representing our cultural experience.”
– Alma Rosa Alvarez
Interested in being featured on the English Program blog? Or know someone who is interested? Contact English Program blogger Jewel Blanchard at email@example.com
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