Dr. Helen Emmitt, J. Rice Cowan Professor of English, Chair of the English Department

I generally love books, so it isn’t very easy for me to choose favorites or even those most influential to me.  I do know that the two authors who made me go to graduate school were Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot.  I instinctively loved both, but they were so difficult that I wanted to keep wrestling with them, and that meant continuing my education.  If I were exiled to a desert island, The Waste Land and To the Lighthouse would definitely be with me.  More recently, I have been really taken with the novels of Zadie Smith.  She is like Charles Dickens with a post-modern sensibility.  I also just finished Commonwealth by Ann Patchett–beautiful writing. And I love the young Irish poet Caitriona O’Reilly. I have a stack of great stuff from Christmas to read; we live in such a vibrant era of writing!”

Dr. Emily Cranford, Visiting Assistant Professor of French and Humanities

Dr. Cranford’s first pick was Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam trilogy. The three novels in the series explore a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by genetically engineered humans designed to experience no feelings of remorse, jealousy, or shame—and no concept of the pre-apocalyptic world. An Atwood fan since high school, Dr. Cranford said, “What I really love about this series is the characterization—the characters are really well fleshed-out and I really enjoy her take on the post-apocalyptic genre. As an ecofeminist especially, I think it’s important to consider how we conceive of the world and how we can easily damage the earth.”

Her second pick, Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer Prize- winning novel Middlesex, follows several generations of the Stephanides family from their roots in Asia Minor through their immigration to America in the mid-20th century. The story traces the fallout of an illegitimate marriage against the backdrop of social turmoils ranging from the Balkan Wars to the Detroit race riots, all from the coming-of-age perspective of the youngest family member, Cal. Dr. Cranford said she likes the fact that the novel is very much “an American epic, but it also addresses important issues like this being a nation of immigrants, and ideas of gender and race and how we work on those issues through our lifetimes.”

Dr. Mark Lucas, Jobson Professor of English

I really enjoyed the last two books I’ve read: Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves and Mark Greif’s Against Everything. Russell’s book is a weird, wild collection of short stories peopled by gator wrestlers, shapeshifters, and feral children–magic realism meets southern gothic. Greif is a culture critic and his book of essays, whether addressing sex, fitness, rap, war, or reality TV, is a genuine brain tonic, guaranteed to make you think.”

St. Lucy’s Home includes “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” one of Russell’s early short stories that eventually inspired her Pulitzer-nominated novel, Swamplandia!. Mark Greif is a co-founder of the journal N+1, a self-described “politically engaged literary magazine” published trianually.

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