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Culture of the Book

From The Nightstand: Professor Roxanne O’Connell

Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale ’17, Connections Intern


Photo courtesy of Roxanne O’Connell

Professor Roxanne O’Connell is Professor of Communication, teaching Visual Communication and Media Ecology. She has been with Roger Williams University since 2003.


Current Reads

Photo: Amazon.com

Dr. O’Connell is currently reading a collection of detective mysteries by Margery Allingham. Finding her stories similar to that of Dorothy Sayers and Ngaio Marsh, O’Connell most admires how they “read as a puzzle.” Reading them is “a great way to disconnect— transforming oneself to a different time and place. I eat these stories up like candy.”

photo: Amazon.com

To satisfy her thirst for nonfiction, O’Connell is also reading Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee, the account of the harsh lives of tenant farmers during the Great Depression. Alternating between prose and poetry, this book is “a very moving account full of anger regarding the lack of social justice in America.”


Memorable Reads

photo: goodreads.com

The eldest girl in her family, O’Connell had a fantasy of what life would be like as an only child left alone with her book. For Dr. O’Connell, Louisa May Alcott’s Eight Cousins fulfilled this fantasy. Eight Cousins is the story of Rose Campbell, a recently orphaned child living with her great aunts, and finding a place of belonging amongst her seven male cousins and numerous aunts and uncles.


Simon Garfield’s On The Map and Just My Type are O’Connell’s memorable nonfiction reads. Garfield taught her a lot about the art of storytelling by beginning his chapters with a story about a person who is “pulling you into their discovery or observations or the unbelievable mistakes they make.”

From her childhood, she recalls reading Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books. His works consist of the original telling of fairy tales such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Nightingale,” each teaching lessons on how to live in the world.


Upcoming Reads

Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, is on Dr. O’Connell’s list of upcoming reads. This story of Odysseus told from Penelope’s point of view imagines what it was like to be the wife of the great warrior, now left behind during the Trojan War. O’Connell is “waiting for a sunny hammock weekend where I can curl up and read uninterrupted.” O’Connell has many other books on her nightstand waiting to be read, as she fears “it being a Sunday and there being nothing left to read.”


Essential Reads

O’Connell believes there are two kinds of essential reads – “the timeless kind and the one that is a must read right now.”  An “eternal essential” would be Par  Lagerkvist’s The Sibyl as it “examines a person’s life and relationship with things they believe are predestined to provide an alternate realm of thinking.” The “right now read” would be Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus. Dr. O’Connell finds that its importance is in its thesis that the present is moving so fast that there “is no time to get over the shock of the new thing before being thrown into the next new thing–which is unsettling.” O’Connell believes that one reads to discover and that both of these books allow one to do just that.





From The Nightstand: Professor Dorian Lee Jackson

Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale ’17, Connections Intern

Professor Dorian Lee Jackson is an Assistant Professor of Spanish and Portuguese. He has been with the university since 2015.

Current Reads

Professor Jackson is currently reading Parable of the Sower, by Octavia Butler. This dystopian novel is set in California in the year 2025, during a time when crime is rampant and the social order has begun to disintegrate. Communities are walled off by an inept government in order to provide safety to their inhabitants. After her father is killed and her neighborhood torched, eighteen year old empath and visionary Lauren Oya Olamina begins a trek northward in search of a better world.

Professor Jackson found this book “relevant to the current political and social environment we are living in right now.” He finds science fiction and utopian novels compelling as they are able to “give interesting perspectives on our current situations.”

In his free time, Professor Jackson also enjoys reading crime fiction.


Memorable Reads

Brazilian author Rubem Fonseca’s short story collection The Taker and Other Stories and the works of Junot Diaz, one of his favorite authors, are among Professor Jackson’s most memorable reads.

He also fondly remembers reading Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls as a child. This is a book he comes back to a lot as it was “the first chapter book read as a class in elementary school and the experience of reading in long form stuck with me throughout my life.”


Upcoming Reads

Clarice Lispector’s Hour of the Star and Evelio Rosero’s The Armies will be read in preparation for courses Professor Jackson is teaching this semester. “Between family and work it is hard to find the time to sit down and really find the time for pleasure reading.” In spite of these time constraints, he absolutely loves reading and discussing books with his students.



Essential Reads

Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is an essential read because it “narrates a contemporary urban experience that becomes accessible to a lot of different people.” Jackson believes it is important to get to know and understand the American experiences of others. What he finds most rewarding about reading is being able to “reflect on my proximity to or distance from other people’s suffering–which can take a lot of shapes and forms. It allows you to experience someone else’s hardships and reflect on the condition that brings those situations about.”




Upcoming Books

Apollo in the Grass, Selected Poems by Aleksandr Kushner

Translated by Carol Ueland and Robert Carnevale

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

July 2015


Mostly written after the fall of the Soviet Union, Aleksandr Kushner’s Apollo in the Grass presents poems that, for the most part, are published in English for the very first time. After a brief introduction from the translators, this collection displays poems with traditional form but with highly provocative content, diving into an everyday world filled with both the mythical and historical. Some poems are without titles while others have headings, titles, and dedications.


I Am Flying Into Myself, Selected Poems by Bill Knott

Edited by Thomas Lux

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

February 2017


Bill Knot was an American poet who was known for his satire, hatred of clichés, and lyrical poetry. This collection, I Am Flying Into Myself, includes poems written between the years of 1960 and 2014, his year of death. The poems vary in length, form, and punctuation.


A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash, Book by Alexander Masters

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

October 2016


Two friends of Alexander Masters came across 148 handwritten notebooks one day in an old trashcan. The friends dumped them on Masters’ front step and he got to work creating the book A Life Discarded: 148 Diaries Found in the Trash. Some of the notebooks were filled with useless notes, some were falling apart, and others had the royal emblems of George VI on them. Each held a unique story and Masters catalogued them all in this masterful biography about the lives of anonymous people.

From the Nightstand: Cindy Jones

Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale ’17, Connections Intern

Cynthia Jones is the Assistant to the Dean of University Library Services. She has worked at Roger Williams University since 2003.

Current Reads

12 Days of Christmas by Debbie Macomber

Protagonist Julia Padden challenges herself to break through her neighbor’s scrooge-like exterior by killing him with kindness while tracking her progress on her blog. When the two begin to fall for one another, Julia must decide if telling him the truth about her original intention is worth risking her shot at love.

Ms. Jones likes to read holiday related love stories around this time of year, and also enjoys reading fiction by authors such as Elin Hilderbrand and Danielle Steel. Although she is captivated by love stories, her main focus is reading about “people’s trials and tribulations.”

Memorable Reads

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult is a book that has stuck with Jones over the years. The story follows a couple who decide to use genetic engineering to have a child who can become a medical donor for their seriously ill daughter, Kate. Kate’s life becomes dependent on her younger sister Anna’s life until Anna seeks medical emancipation at age fourteen to put a stop to the forced medical procedures. “What stuck with me most was the ending,” said Jones. “I never forgot about it.”

Though an avid reader in her adult years, Jones was not much of a reader in her younger days, which proves that it is never too late to become a lover of literature.

Upcoming Reads

Rushing Waters by Danielle Steel

In this novel, Steel tells the story of six people who get caught in the horrific flooding in New York City caused by Hurricane Ophelia. These characters’ vulnerabilities, regrets, losses, and hopes are then revealed as they join together in their time of need.

Rushing Waters may be on her reading list for a while since “working full time, going to school, and taking care of a family” leaves little time for pleasure reading.

Essential Reads

Though Jones does not have an essential read, she believes it is essential to be discussing what books others are reading. “I get hooked on authors, read everything they’ve written, and then am always asking others what they are reading to gain some new ideas.”




Memorable Reads from the RWU Library Staff – October 2016

Looking for some leisure reading suggestions?  Check out some of the library staff’s favorite recent reads.


81txwj1ckbl-_sl1500_namesake-jhumpa-lahiri Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian

The Namesake & Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I focused the majority of my summer reading on local and acclaimed author Jhumpa Lahiri.  I heard Lahiri speak at Roger Williams University while I was a student here in 2006, and fell in love with her novel, The Namesake (2004).  Ironically, it took me over ten years to finally read the book of short stories which her talk focused on, Interpreter of Maladies (1999).  I loved this book so much that I immediately picked up a copy of her newer collection of short stories, The Unaccustomed Earth (2007).

Both Interpreter of Maladies and The Unaccustomed Earth are beautiful collections of short stories that blend the mundane struggles of human relationships with the often overlooked hardships that first and second generation American citizens endure while assimilating in the United States.  Lahiri’s prose is simultaneously direct and illustrative, which when combined with her excellent character development makes it hard to put either book down.  Each story includes some element of Indian culture (typically Bengali), which may turn off some readers looking for cultural variation, however, I found it extremely interesting to be able to learn about a new culture through the lens of so many different characters.  I would highly recommend anything written by Jhumpa Lahiri, especially my two summer reads, Interpreter of Maladies and The Unaccustomed Earth.




John Fobert, Electronic Resources Librarian

Patriotic Murders by Agatha Christie

A visit to the dentist by Hercule Poirot ends with, what else? A dead body. Was it suicide or murder?  In true Christie fashion, it is unclear if the motive was love, money, or national security.  The story is set at the beginning of the Second World War and was originally published in November 1940 under the title One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.  It is hard to put this book down as the storyline moves along quickly and the characters are intriguing.  Christie worked in a hospital pharmacy during WWI so, as in many of her books, her knowledge of chemicals is apparent.  A thoroughly pleasant read with enough twists to keep you wondering what will happen next.





Christine Fagan, Collections Management Librarian

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.


This book has been selected as the Professor John Howard Birss, Jr. Memorial Book for 2017.  Engaging story!  I cannot put this book down!

“Alternately reverential and comical, One Hundred Years of Solitude interweaves the political, personal, and spiritual, bringing a new consciousness to storytelling; this radiant work is a masterpiece of the art of fiction.” – Harper Collins Hardcover edition








Liz Hanes, Acquisitions Assistant

The Obsession by Nora Roberts

This book was a great summer read. Nora Roberts’ books are always good, but this one was better than usual because it has a little bit of everything. It’s a romance, but also includes some elements of mystery, and some thrilling, slightly scary moments.






Hannah Goodall, Learning Commons Coordinator

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies tells the story of a marriage through the narration of both the husband and the wife.  While the majority of the book is told through the perspective of Lotto, the charming, eccentric, actor and playwright husband, it is resolved through the narration of his seemingly quiet and reserved wife, Mathilde.  The novel twists through the lives of Lotto and Mathilde as they meet at the end of college at Vassar and ends with a sneaky twist set in the country side of New York.  I found this book captivating and humorous, as well as a little heartbreaking.


From The Nightstand: Jeffrey Meriwether

Interview conducted Brittany Parziale, Connections Intern


Dr. Jeffrey Meriwether is Assistant Dean for Operations, FCAS, and a Professor in the Department of History and American Studies. He has been at RWU since 2001.


Current Reads


Professor Meriwether is currently reading Settle and Conquer: Militarism on the American Frontier, 1607-1890 by Matthew J Flynn. This book examines the history of westward expansion that occurred in America and suggests that the destruction of Native American cultures that took place at that time was in part a “campaign of counterinsurgency.” Professor Meriwether especially appreciates how this book “successfully takes a current foreign affairs topic and relates it to America’s national history.”


Memorable Reads


R.F Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days, is the story of a Welshman from a poor mining village who fights in World War I and later becomes an educator. Professor Meriwether cites being taken by many of the works of historical fiction written by Delderfield.


During his childhood, Professor Meriwether read Audie Murphy’s To Hell and Back, the story of Murphy’s World War II experience as the most decorated American soldier in that war. “My dad was a World War II veteran. We watched this film together when I was young, leading me to read the book multiple times. I’ve recently passed the book down to my son to read.”


Upcoming Reads


Isabel V. Hull’s Absolute Destruction: Military Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany is a book that “takes on the military cultures and practices of war in imperial Germany.” Finding time for pleasure reading can be quite difficult for Professor Meriwether. Still, he says he would love to “just sit in a dark room with a cup of coffee and read this book.”


Essential Reads

“I don’t believe I could name an essential read as my focus is so narrow and is based on my academic research and studies.”








Short Takes: Poetry Collections in Brief

By Maggie Daubenspeck, Connections Intern


This past April’s National Poetry Month encouraged us to consider some of this season’s new releases. The good folks at Farrar, Straus, and Giroux were kind enough to send some of the poetry books off their list—from first books to established writers.



If You Can Tell, Poems by James McMichael

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

February 2016


If You Can Tell is James McMichael’s seventh collection of poetry, composed of eight poems of varied length. In this new collection, McMichael explores “God and the Word” and what it means to exist. Religious themes carry throughout his work as he writes about his mother’s illness, failed relationships, and death. His collection examines whether McMichael is devout or questions his faith and the Word of God. McMichael has been previously known for his sixth book of poetry, Capacity, which was a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award for Poetry.



Observations, Poems by Marianne Moore

Edited by Linda Leavell

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

April 2016


Marianne Moore was a Modernist poet known for her precise language. This edition of Observations is based off of the original text published in 1925. This collection of modernist poems pre-dates the dramatic revisions done by Moore in 1925 when she cut “fifty-four poems to forty.” Her poetry, full of wit and irony, also inspired Elizabeth Bishop to challenge the accepted views of society. This devout Presbyterian plays with meter during the rise of free verse and continuously edited all of her works up until her death in 1972.



The Swimmer, Poems by John Koethe

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

March 2016


John Koethe’s The Swimmer, dedicated to Mark Strand, is full of questions and honest answers about what it means to be living. In his tenth collection, Koethe takes the reader around the world through his lyrical poems exploring the individual. From listening to Frank Sinatra to visiting the Louvre to reading Elizabeth Bishop, Koethe dives into the unconscious mind to find the truth. He calls out poets by name and shares their influence on him in his own writings. Koethe has previously won the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and the Frank O’Hara Award for his writings.




Standing Water, Poems by Eleanor Chai

Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

April 2016


Standing Water is the first book of poetry Eleanor Chai has published with her own work. Chai has been both an editor and advisor to both poets and artists for years. Her lyrical collection is filled with precise language and follows a narrative on Chai’s own life. The image of Little Hanako is explored along with the image of a mother not present in the author’s life. Chai plays with meter and rhyme throughout her poems which all vary in size and length. Each poem studies how we look at our world.

From the Nightstand: Professor Edward J. Delaney

Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale, Connections Intern

Edward J. Delaney photo

Edward J. Delaney, Professor of Creative Writing and Editor of Mount Hope magazine, has taught at RWU since 1990.



Current Reads


Currently reading Literary Publishing in the 21st century edited by Wayne Miller, Kevin Prufer, and Travis Kurowski. This collection of narratives describes the transformation in the world of publishing brought about by technological developments, market pressures, and changing reading habits through a wide range of perspectives.




“I am reading it to help with the literary publishing course I teach. But I also find it very interesting and insightful on a personal level.” As the editor of Mount Hope, the student run magazine operating out of Roger Williams University, Delaney finds himself gravitating to works about publishing and about the history of the modern publishing era. Also, to keep up-to-date, he regularly reads multiple magazines, including: The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Paris Review, and scores of smaller literary journals.


Memorable Reads


James Joyce’s Ulysses. Multiple works by Don DeLillo. Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem. William Kennedy’s Ironweed. “You read a good book and find that your priorities in life at the moment change a little . . . Those are the types of books that stick with me.” Several books from childhood also remain memorable such as The Catcher in the Rye, and William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy. Delaney remembers reading Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got His Gun, an anti-war novel, in his freshmen year of high school, and finding it “a very powerful read, telling the shocking story of the effects of war.”


“I have an interest in reading literary fiction and nonfiction of all kinds, ranging from historical context to biographies.” He enjoys short stories just as much as books, finding them “best when you want to get the entire reading experience in one sitting.” For Edward Delaney, it’s easy to be able to set aside time for pleasure reading. “I wanted to be a writer because I love to read; and a lot of the reason I read is because I write. Reading is an important part of my day. Every day.”


Upcoming Reads


Viet Thang Nguyen’s The Sympathizer. It tells the story of a Vietnamese, French communist spy living a double life in Los Angeles. “Primarily, I am interested in reading this because it recently won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s important for me to know what is being considered as among the best work out there right now.”


Essential Reads


“I don’t think there is an essential read, because no one needs to read any one book. So many different books speak to different human experiences. I don’t think any one good book can speak to everyone the same.”




















From The Nightstand: Maia Farish

Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale, Connections Intern



Maia Farish, wife of President Donald J. Farish, is First Lady of RWU.




Current Reads

Maia Farish is currently reading Norwegian by Night written by Derek B. Miller. This thrilling literary novel tells the story of Sheldon Horowitz, an 82-year-old Jewish widower living in Oslo with his granddaughter and her Norwegian husband, who becomes a party to a hate crime in which he finds his long sought out opportunity to protect and help others. The novel is a unique hybrid of part memory, part police procedural, part sociopolitical tract, and part existential mediation.


“It is a crazy book,” She says. “It is funny but at the same time it is really dark.” Maybe not one of her normal reads, the protagonist being a cranky old Jewish man from New York “took me back to growing up in New York surrounded by Jewish friends and their fathers and grandfathers.”




Memorable Reads

All of Reynolds Price’s books, – including A Long and Happy Life and Three Gospels. Other memorable reads include Three Junes (2002) and The Widower’s Tale (2010) both written by Julia Glass. The Widower’s Tale is particularly interesting as it is written by a female author in the first person perspective of a man. “I have a strong admiration for authors who are able to successfully write in the opposite gender.” Several books from childhood also remain memorable, such as Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, Cricket in Times Square, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm as a child.


“I find myself mostly reading personal, dense novels with various levels of complexity, gravitating towards favorite authors more so than subjects.” Mrs. Farish looks for authors who can manage dialogue that captures the actual voices and lifestyles of their characters, adding very realistic elements to their works of fiction. She notes high praise for literary writers such as Marilynne Robinson and Ron Rash, but also has a soft spot for crime novels by authors including Donna Leon, Kate Atkinson, and Colin Dexter. Nathaniel Philbrick, who she admires, remains on the top of her list for his ability to teach his love of history through storytelling, bringing historical events to life in a unique way. “One of my favorite aspects of reading is being able to come away from books knowing there are so many human experiences one cannot begin to consider without reading.”




Upcoming Reads

M Train by Patti Smith. Mrs. Farish has taken with Smith’s 2009 memoir Just Kids for “the fluid and luminous writing that was so different from her music.” Mrs. Farish appreciates how Smith’s writing balances a very intimate manner with respect and authenticity.




Essential Reads

Armistead Maupin’s book series Tales of the City. The series consists of nine novels all taking place in Northern California during the outbreak of the AIDS crisis. The first book was published in 1978.”These books are the perfect combination of heartbreaking and funny consisting of amazing dialogue.” Mrs. Farish has made it through the first six, and is clearing out space on her nightstand for the final three.


Winter Break Staff Picks from the RWU Library

compiled by Hannah Goodall, Learning Commons Coordinator



Megan Lessard, Archives and Digital Services Specialist

The Magicians by Lev Grossman.

It’s a fantasy novel about a young man who attends a magic college in New York. It’s being made into a television series on the SyFy network so I wanted to read it before the premiere.


Liz Hanes, Acquisitions Assistant

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

“Penobscot Indian Molly Ayer is close to ‘aging out’ out of the foster care system. A community service position helping an elderly woman clean out her home is the only thing keeping Molly out of juvie and worse… As she helps Vivian sort through her possessions and memories, Molly learns that she and Vivian aren’t as different as they seem to be. A young Irish immigrant orphaned in New York City, Vivian was put on a train to the Midwest with hundreds of other children whose destinies would be determined by luck and chance. Molly discovers that she has the power to help Vivian find answers to mysteries that have haunted her for her entire life—answers that will ultimately free them both.”   –Amazon.com




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Shawn Platt, Academic Technology Coordinator

Rider Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Men’s Health, Newport Daily News, Florida Today

Florida Today was my most popular and entertaining daily, it gave a wonderful weather report that met my expectations–usually sunny and warm–and an inside scoop on what was happening at the beaches–Santa surfing, fishing reports, etc.



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Heidi Benedict, University Archivist

Midaq Alley by Naguib Mahfouz

This book describes the people living and working in Cairo’s fictional Midaq Alley, with its two shops, a café, a bakery, an office, and two houses. Mahfouz wonderfully describes 1940s Egyptian life through the dreams and hardships of his characters.


The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black

Part of a mystery series about an Irish pathologist named Quirke. The book begins when a friend from long ago asks Quirke that he not do an autopsy on his wife who supposedly committed suicide. Benjamin Black more frequently writes under the name John Banville. One of his most well-known book is the Booker Prize winning novel The Sea. 



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Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian

A Small Country About to Vanish by Victoria Avilan

Purge by Sofi Oksanen

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of literary fiction, and this winter break I read two real gems.  A Small Country About to Vanish by Victoria Avilan is a beautiful novel set in Israel, depicting the very real daily struggles that define what it means to be human: broken friendships, cheating spouses, financial struggles and childrearing.  In addition, the characters in this book also live under the constant threat of suicide bombers and staunch religious conflict sending their children off to protect the Israeli borders.  The two main characters, Shelli and Rona, alternate sharing their points of views on how their childhood relationship with one another both destroyed and liberated their notions of self-worth and identity.  Avilan’s writing is crisp and illustrative, and engaging on multiple levels.  Definitely recommended!


The other book I read over winter break was Purge by Sofi Oksanen.  The narration of this novel alternates between Zara, a young sex-trafficking victim who has risked her life to flee her abusive captors, and Aliide Truu, an older widow living alone in the Estonian countryside.  Aliide offers Zara temporary shelter with reservation, and together the two women divulge and uncover “the culmination of a tragic family drama of rival, lust, and loss that played out during the worst years of Estonia’s Soviet occupation.”  The story opened my eyes to not only the atrocities that were committed to women during the Soviet occupation of Estonia during the 1940s and 1950s, but also to the same level of shame and abuse that victims of sex trafficking endure today.  While not a heart-warming book, I highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates learning about historical movements through the lens of the lives of average citizens.




Hannah Goodall, Learning Commons Coordinator

Room by Emma Donoghue


“Room is home to Jack, but to Ma, it’s the prison where she’s been held since she was nineteen—for seven long years. Through her fierce love for her son, she has created a life for him in that eleven-by-eleven-foot space.” –Amazon.com




John Fobert, Electronic Resources Librarian

The Bark Before Christmas by Laurien Berenson


I picked up an advance copy of this book at the American Library Association conference in June 2015. It was the perfect book to read over the holiday break. It was set in Connecticut so references to the area were familiar adding to the pleasure of the book. It was a “light” read and perfect for people involved with dog shows.