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November 2014

From the Nightstand: Susan Pasquarelli

Interview conducted by Ryan Monahan


Dr. Pasquarelli, Professor of Literacy Education in the School of Education, has been on faculty for 21 years.

SusanPasquarelliCurrent Reads

The Wedding Shroud: A Tale of Ancient Rome by Elisabeth Storrs fits neatly into Dr. Pasquarelli’s collection of historical fiction centered on Ancient Rome. The  story follows a Roman woman named Caecilia who, in 406 BC, has been wedded to an Etruscan noble to help create a truce between the two warring nations.Although she moved just twelve miles from Rome, the Etruscans are dramatically different than the Romans, and Caecilia must learn to adapt to a pleasure-seeking Hedonistic society.

Dr. Pasquarelli was drawn to this novel in an attempt to continue her education about Ancient Rome and Roman artwork. The Romans conquered Etruscan civilization, but many elements of Roman artwork can be traced to Etruria, located along Italy’s western coast. For Dr. Pasquarelli, Roman artwork is of high interest, as every summer she visits Rome with a group of students from RWU, exploring the history, culture, and artwork of the ancient city.

 Memorable Reads

Dr. Pasquarelli’s favorite book by Karen Joy Fowler, We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, is narrated by a 22 year old girl named Rosemary, who gradually reveals more and more of her childhood relationship with her sister. Dr. Pasquarelli is adamant that those who read this book should shy away from book jacket summaries to allow the book to unfold naturally. Readers who do so will have a pleasant surprise a third of the way through the book, one that made Dr. Pasquarelli jump up onto her bed and scream aloud! Another novel from her collection of Ancient Rome, Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces by Miles J. Unger analyzes the life of the renowned Renaissance artist Michelangelo through his works of art.

Upcoming Reads      

High on Dr. Pasquarelli’s list is Ian McEwan’s latest novel The Children Act, a suspenseful novel about a devoutly religious teenage boy refusing a treatment that could save his life and the efforts of a compassionate judge to convince him otherwise. Also on her bookshelf is Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher, a “hilarious book about professors for professors,” which details the humdrum and woeful life of a dispirited creative writing professor.

 

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What are people in the Roger Williams University community reading? The From the Nightstand team asks which books are on people’s nightstands—either being read, or waiting to be read.

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The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim

By Kevin Marchand

The-Emerald-Light-in-the-Air-by-Donald-Antrim-e1415219824136The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim

Farrar, Strauss and Giroux

September 2014

I guess it depends on how well you wish to understand the fragility of the human mind. If the answer is not very much, then you should leave Donald Atrium’s new collection of short stories, The Emerald Light in the Air, on the bookshelf, unopened. On the other hand, if you wish to understand the daily struggles that a great number of your fellow human beings face everyday, possibly understand your own mind a bit better than you may consciously wish to, and be wildly entertained in the process then you should grab it, let the white sleeve slide to the floor and open up to page one.

Almost every one of these brilliantly crafted stories deals with a struggling artist in some sense of the word. Be it a painter, a writer, or a play director they all have their own unique set of difficulties and as you read, their torments will likely become your own.

Nearly every character struggles with sex in some way. Whether it be that they feel the need to simulate the act on stage with students, as is the case with Reginald Barry in “An Actor Prepares,” or that they don’t know who they should be doing it with or that they cannot do it with the person they love any longer, they all face the challenge in some way and to varying degrees.

In addition to their sex lives and their art, these characters struggle with the state of their consciousness on a day to day basis. A number of them take medications for depression or anxiety, a handful of them battle with excess drinking, and a couple even walk up to the brink of suicide, of believe that things could possibly be better for them on the other side. One notable example is from my personal favorite story in the collection, “Another Manhattan.” In this story, the protagonist Jim contemplates suicide throughout the entire narrative. What worries us more is that we know that he has attempted in the past.

On the outside almost all of these characters seem like normal people. People that you could sit down next to at the bar and talk to about the current economic crisis or the Red Sox’s chances of making it to the World Series. Once we get inside their minds though, we see, that they are deeply troubled individuals. Some preserve on their own—or with the help of others—and others leave of worrying about them as if they were our own brothers, mothers or cousins.

By the end of the collection, we feel as if we have learned something distinctly important about the human mind—a few things perhaps. Namely, that we don’t know the story of the person next to us. Almost everyone struggles and anyone who doesn’t to some degree simply isn’t a very thinking human being. We learn that the line between sane and insane can become thin in a matter of moments and sometimes it can never be made as strong as it once was after that happens. Most importantly, perhaps, we know for certain, upon closing this small book, that there may very well come a day when our hand is the only thing that stands between someone toeing the line and crossing over it. And of course, that someday—if not today—we could very well be toeing that very same line ourselves.