Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale ’17, Connections Intern
Professor Roxanne O’Connell is Professor of Communication, teaching Visual Communication and Media Ecology. She has been with Roger Williams University since 2003.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale, Connections Intern
Edward J. Delaney, Professor of Creative Writing and Editor of Mount Hope magazine, has taught at RWU since 1990.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
Interview conducted by Brittany Parziale, Connections Intern
Maia Farish, wife of President Donald J. Farish, is First Lady of RWU.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
Interview conducted by Jacquelyn Voghel, Connections Intern
Hannah Goodall is the Learning Commons Coordinator, and has been at RWU for 2 years.
Hannah is currently reading The Martian by Andy Weir, which tells the story of Mark Watney, an astronaut who becomes stranded on Mars after his crew, assuming he is dead, evacuates the planet without him. Alone in a hostile environment, Mark must use all of his resources and scientific knowledge to accomplish the daunting task of returning home.
Hannah decided to read the novel after seeing a trailer for its movie adaptation, which was directed by Ridley Scott and stars Matt Damon. Hannah praised the novel for its use of humor, and expressed that while the movie looks impressive, she is confident that the book is even better.
Hannah regards J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series as among her favorite books. She was 11 years old when the first Harry Potter book was published, and she ardently followed the series as each new book came out, even taking two days off from work in order to have time to finish the final book without interruption. Although the series has now concluded, Hannah continues to reread books four through seven nearly every summer.
Aside from Harry Potter, Hannah also counts The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald as among her most memorable reads. She read both books as a teenager, but has since revisited them. While Hannah was initially lukewarm toward The Great Gatsby, it has since taken on new meaning to her.
For her next read, Hannah plans to pick up Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance: An Investigation. Ansari is an actor and comedian known for his work on shows such as Parks and Recreation as well as his stand-up comedy, and his book examines the interplay between technology and romance today.
Hannah was introduced to the works of David Sedaris when she read his book Me Talk Pretty One Day, and would now recommend any of his works. She recalls that the book was so humorous that she laughed out loud while reading it in public, and now regards Sedaris as her favorite author. In addition to his books, Hannah also called Sedaris’ personal essays “hilarious and also insightful and moving.”
Danny DiCamillo, Assistant Director of Residence Life, has been at RWU for 8 years, and for the past 3 as Assistant Director.
Interview conducted by Ryan Monahan
The Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher, a fantasy series about a modern-day wizard, are high on Danny’s list of favorite books. The wizard, Harry Dresden, acts as a private investigator for regular people who have magical things happen to them. Danny, passionate about fantasy and science fiction, attributes his active imagination as a child to his love for this genre. As a child, his father read him The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien and The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling to fall asleep at night, which greatly influence his reading taste now as an adult.
As Assistant Director of Residence Life, Danny also chooses to read a number of books that can aid him in interacting with students, parents, and his coworkers. Currently, he is reading Getting to Yes by William Ury and Roger Fisher, which Danny describes as a guide on how to have productive conversations with people in difficult situations, and how to reach mutually beneficial outcomes for both parties. Once finished with Getting to Yes, he plans to read the sequel, Getting Past No by William Ury.
What stands out in Danny’s mind is Still Alice by Lisa Genova, a powerful read about a professor from Harvard with Alzheimer’s and her struggle with losing aspects of herself. Danny found himself sucked into the novel, in part due to Genova’s description of Boston, an area Danny knows well. “When you can read an amazing book and put yourself in the reader’s shoes, [it’s] difficult… I found myself thinking of my own mortality.”
Prefacing his next choice by saying, “this is not a plug for the University,” Danny describes The Circle by Dave Eggers, RWU’s freshman common read selection, as a book that predicts the possible outcome of “eliminating all secrets.” The novel depicts the protagonist, Mae, as she gets a job at a fictional corporation based on Google and quickly loses her personal identity to the vast company. In response, the novel made Danny very conscientious of how much technology has become a crutch, pointing out the “Jawbone” bracelet he wears that records activities such as sleep patterns and fitness routines.
Danny has a tremendous list of upcoming books to read; he’s stopped buying books, as the bookshelves in his house are filled with both fantasy novels and books to read for his career. Besides working on the stacks of un-read books, he intends to re-read the Harry Potter series. Danny loves to receive suggestions for new books, and if you have a book in mind Danny may enjoy, he wants to hear from you. E-mail him at email@example.com to suggest great reads.
When asked what book everybody should read, Danny took much consideration. He finally chose Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling, but with a disclaimer that this was “his” book. This book is the most important for him, but he knows that “it won’t change everybody’s life.” His wish is that everybody will find a book that will change their lives, just as Harry Potter did for him.
Interview conducted by Ryan Monahan
Karen Bilotti, Coordinator of Writing Tutorial Services and Adjunct Instructor of Writing, has been at RWU for 26 years.
Although between books at the moment, Karen Bilotti intends to re-read The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Published in 1952, the narrator begins the novel by claiming that he is an “invisible man,” as other people refuse to see him as a person. As a black man growing up in the 1940s and ‘50s, the narrator details the enormous struggles his race faced in America during the 20th century. Powerfully written and compelling, and Karen highly endorses Ellison’s novel.
Karen has a long list of memorable reads, most of which she wants to re-read. Among many others, Karen listed The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, Long Day’s Journey Into Night by Eugene O’Neill, and The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Didion writes a heartbreaking novel about her grief in response to her deceased husband and daughter, both lost within two years of each other. Karen raved about the writing techniques Didion applied, and has used the novel in her Expository Writing classes in the past.
Karen shared with me a story of meeting one of her favorite authors, Junot Díaz. One day while she was working in the Writing Center, two of her tutors exclaimed that Díaz was presenting that day at Johnson & Wales University. Immediately, Karen, abandoning work, drove to Providence to see him speak. Karen describes “this mob of students, which had to be illegal and unsafe” at the doors of the auditorium, but nevertheless she and her tutors shouldered their way to the front of the throng, claiming front row seats amongst the JWU faculty. Afterwards, the members of the front row had the good fortune to receive an autographed copy of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, on of Karen’s personal favorites.
Recommended by Karen’s colleague, This Side of Brightness by Colum McCann tells the story of the “sandhogs” in New York City at the turn of century, who were tasked with digging the tunnels under the East River that would carry the trains between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Also on Karen’s “to-do” list of books is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. After reading Housekeeping by the same author, Karen can’t wait to pick up Robinson’s second novel, about the relationships between fathers and sons ranging from the Civil War to the twentieth century.
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, about the complex relationships and allegiances of the family of Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey, is to Karen “the closest I’ve seen in a novel where what the author describes is a painting.” Woolf’s writing techniques and style are strikingly impressive to Karen, and she highly recommends it to any avid reader.