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Culture of the Book
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.”
Although the Roger Williams University campus and heart of downtown Bristol can seem like separate worlds at times, in fact it is only a six-minute drive between them. Through its open talks, lectures, and forums, the University Library has taken pride in sharing the campus learning environment with our Bristol neighbors. In order to further our relationship with the intellectually curious residents of Bristol, the University Library recently has been creating a series of partnerships with Rogers Free Library. This past year, jointly the University Library and Rogers Free were able to host Talking in the Library(s) event in the fall and the spring. The fall program welcomed novelist and short story writer, Jim Shepard, and the spring saw a packed house for novelist Claire Messud. In support of both of the events, RWU students and Rogers Free patrons alike engaged in the works of both authors, coming together in advance of each writer’s appearance to discuss the books. Additionally, Professor Ted Delaney hosted regular film screenings and discussions on Tuesday nights. “The expanding collaboration between Roger Williams University and Rogers Free Library is a great benefit for the local community,” says Rogers Free Circulations Supervisor, Cheryl Stein. “Increasing interaction and exchanging of ideas among students, faculty and members of the community has brought an ever widening world to all involved.”
So what else is on tap with the partnerships taking place at Rogers Free?
From May 11 – June 22, Rogers Free will host a memoir writing workshop that was developed by Rogers Free staff in conjunction with RWU interim Dean of Libraries, Betsy Learned, and University Library writer-in-residence, Adam Braver. It will be led by Susan Tacent. (http://rogersfreelibrary.org/memoir-writing-workshop/)
On October 5, 2016, novelist Dawn Tripp will be reading and discussing her latest novel, Georgia, a fictional account of the life of painter Georgia O’Keefe. (7 PM at Rogers Free. A partnership between RWU’s Talking in the Library / Mary Tefft White series, and Rogers Free’s Jane Bodell fund through their Friends of the Library). The appearance will be preceded by a book group discussion, with the date TBD.
April 3, 2017, as the 2017 Bermont Fund Distinguished Guest Writer, novelist, short story writer, memoirist, and critic Rick Moody will be speaking. (7 PM. A partnership between RWU’s Talking in the Library / Mary Tefft White series and Bermont Fellowship, and Rogers Free’s Jane Bodell fund through their Friends of the Library). The appearance will be preceded by a book group discussion, with the date TBD.
Also on the horizon will be programming in collaboration with RWU’s John Howard Birss program that celebrates the anniversary of a great book. The coming academic year will honor the 50th anniversary of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. Stay tuned for details on upcoming programs . . .
The annual Bermont Fellowship in Fiction and Nonfiction took place over April 10 – 11, 2016. Each Fellow, from several corners of the university, applied and were chosen through a blind submission process. For an afternoon, as guests of Katherine Quinn at the Anthony Quinn House, this year’s Fellows engaged in a Master Class with Distinguished Visiting Writer, Claire Messud.
We are pleased to honor the 2016-2017 Bermont Fellows:
Alexis den Boggende
Kaitlin Della Rocca
The following evening, in a collaboration between the RWU University Library’s Talking in the Library series, the RWU Department of Creative Writing and English Literature, and the Rogers Free Library’s Jane Bodell Endowment, Claire Messud gave a public talk at Rogers Free in Bristol.
By Kevin Marchand, Connections Intern
Prodigals: Stories by Greg Jackson
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Writers like Greg Jackson continue to prove that the short story form is not dead. In his forthcoming debut collection, Prodigals, Jackson has strung together eight mind-shattering stories, a number of which formerly appeared in such publications as The New Yorker, Granta, and Virginia Quarterly Review. With sentences that drive on for half a page, and a lyricism you can almost taste, Jackson’s characters navigate the deceivingly mudded waters of today’s privileged elite. Out of the eight stories, six are told from the first-person perspective, and frankly, these narrators leave nothing unsaid. As readers, we are privy to every moment of their spiritual and philosophical unraveling, and we accompany them as their relationship to reality becomes more and more fragile, their disequilibrium increasingly jarring.
The terms of the ensuing ride are set in the opening sentence of the first story, “Wagner in the Desert” (previously published to much fanfare in The New Yorker). “First we did molly,” the narrator explains, “lay on the thick carpet touching the pile, ourselves, one another.” At this point we know to buckle up, and Jackson doesn’t disappoint. He keeps the pedal to the medal in every story, barely leaving enough room for breathing. Indeed, by the end of most these stories, it can feel like one has just run a marathon. So in the event of profuse sweating, don’t be alarmed—you are not alone.
Jackson demonstrates a fondness for picking his characters up by their ears and plopping them down in settings they did not entirely ask for, with people they do not necessarily want to be with. And, predictably, this technique tends to create immediate tension, a tension Jackson sustains line to line, page to page. In perhaps the most obvious case, “Epithalamium,” the protagonist, Hara, a youngish woman in the midst of a semi-mutual divorce, arrives at her beach house to find a stranger—a college-aged, free-spirited young woman, named Lyric—living in her home. Hara wanted time alone, and now, she’s got to deal with the presence of a young woman who could not be more different than her, and in turn serves as a constant reminder of all the aspects of Hara’s own personality that she is hoping to avoid. With his unique characters and his dazzling use of language, Jackson holds us rapt as the situation continues to escalate in the most unexpected ways.
In the final story, “Metanarrative Breakdown,” the narrator describes a feeling that over the summer he has “been on increasingly intimate terms with . . . A vertigo of disconnection.” If I had to pick a prevailing theme that carries through from “Wagner in the Desert” to “Metanarrative Breakdown,” it would have to be this: disconnection. Although almost all the characters in Prodigals are financially well-to-do—or at the very least, comfortable—they are all spiritually bankrupt. And this, it seems, is the point Greg Jackson is trying to make about our current predicament. It is becoming increasingly difficult to connect, really connect—to feel fulfilled. In “Tanner’s Sisters,” Jackson’s narrator announces, “I don’t think I’ve ever been present with another person as deeply as I was in that moment.” For him, this is everything; for each of Jackson’s characters, this is what they long for. Yet, in most cases, they fail. Frequently, it is a challenge to pin down precisely why it is that these characters can’t seem to connect, but it’s all too clear that their hold on life—their notion of existence—is dauntingly and increasingly “tenuous.”
These eight stories that make up Prodigals are remarkably unsettling and shockingly beautiful. Philosophically uprooting and spiritually crucial. Greg Jackson probes the very depths of our existence, highlighting the ever-lingering sense of discontent that’s always waiting to strike, shall we let our guard down and look past the hidden beauty of a life that so often appears to be anything but.
Hotels of North America, by Rick Moody
Rick Moody’s latest novel is the story of a one Reginald Edward Morse, a top reviewer on RateYourLodging.com. The novel is told through a series of Morse’s online reviews of hotels over several years. Each review offers its own story, while slowly building a larger narrative that gets pieced together through a series of revelations that come out over time in the postings. On the surface, Moody’s book is wildly funny, but once you settle in deeper, you find a very moving and brilliant account of what it means to search for dignity and love and family.
The Heart, by Maylis de Kerangal
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Originally published in France in 2014, The Heart (Réparer les vivants) was a widely lauded, including winning the Grand Prix RTL-Lire, and the Student Choice Novel of the Year. The novel, artfully translated by Sam Taylor, takes place over a twenty-four-hour period, from the moment of a fatal accident to the heart that is harvested from the victim and then transplanted. Stylistically, the prose explodes off the page, reflecting the urgency of the situation, where any and every pause is a question of life and death.
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.”
The Givenness of Things, by Marilynne Robinson
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Marilynne Robinson’s new collection offers seventeen essays that probe the state of humanism, theology, and morality in our contemporary culture. Readers who know Robinson through her fiction (Housekeeping, the Pulitzer Prize winning Gilead) will not be surprised at the depth and intellect that Robinson brings to her essays (a thoughtfulness well on display in the November 5 issue of the New York Review of Books, in which Robinson is interviewed by President Obama on many of the issues addressed The Givenness of Things). In looking forward to the book, we will expect to find ourselves in states of contemplation, in states of rage, and in states of hope.
The Fate of Ideas: Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals, by Robert Boyers
Columbia University Press
In his most current book, noted literary and cultural critic Robert Boyers brings us essays that are as much criticism as they are memoir. As someone who has been on the frontlines of much of the intellectual culture of the past half-century, Boyers is able to take his experiences with some of the great minds of the last century and fuse them into personal essays that address specific ideas that permeate our contemporary culture, asking why some fade into fashions of the time while others define us.
By Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian
Hopefully by now you know that you can borrow books from the University Library (you do know that, right!?), but did you also know there’s another great resource that provides free and discounted e-books for you to download directly to your e-reader? Introducing, BookBub, a service that will send you daily emails with either free or greatly discounted ($.99-$2.99) e-books that can be instantly downloaded to any device (think Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Android). The best part: even the free books are yours to keep! That’s right, unlike borrowing titles from the library, these books are yours to enjoy forever. The expert editorial staff at Bookbub serves up bestsellers and noteworthy reads every single day, but don’t hesitate if a book catches your eye! These deals are limited-time offers and usually expire within a few days. Bookbub is free to join, and you can edit your preferences to match the type of deals you’re interested in receiving, with dozens of categories to choose from. Biographies? Check. Sci-fi? Check. Romance? Check. Cookbooks? Check!
With your busy class schedules it may seem like pleasure reading is a thing of the past, but when things calm down, why not let Bookbub select and deliver your first free read; we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Students, faculty and staff are always asking the Learning Commons Librarians and Staff for suggestions about what books to read.
Here is a list of what we are currently reading and some of our favorite summer reads.
Betsy Peck Learned, Interim Dean of University Libraries
My current read is Euphoria by Lily King. It is a fictional account of the early life of Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, studying tribes in New Guinea.
My favorite summer read was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. She’s an amazing writer who tells a very dark and dramatic but human story of a boy named Theo who spends his life both trying to find and lose himself.
Susan McMullen, Professor – Research Services & User Engagement Librarian
I’m currently reading The Girl You Left Behind by JoJo Moyes. Through her vividly drawn characters and brilliant storytelling, JoJo Moyes immediately engages her readers in an emotional ride that spans two time frames and locations—a small village in France during the German occupation of World War I and modern-day London. In this gorgeous story of unwavering love and sacrifice, the romantic narratives of two compelling women are bound together through a fictional painting named The Girl You Left Behind. Their stories of love and sacrifice take the reader on a journey that explores the complexities of the human spirit and the power of art to resonate through the ages. Moyes has a unique talent for grabbing the reader’s attention and writing a story that makes a lasting impression.
Karen Jones Ethier, Director of Support Services – Information Technology
My current read is The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling.
My favorite is a tie:
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: Fiction
- The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion: Fiction
I loved The Goldfinch because her writing just swept me right into the story and I loved The Rosie Project because it made me laugh out loud!
Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian
I’m currently reading No More Mulberries by Mary Smith (women’s fiction).
So far, this is a beautifully written novel about a Scottish-born midwife who finds herself married, widowed and remarried in Afghanistan amidst the civil war in 1995. She must learn to cope with the loss of her first husband while raising her two children and navigating her new marriage of convenience and her career as a midwife in a country with little to no resources.
My favorite summer read is Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman (fiction).
I just finished reading this book, and Aciman’s poetic writing moved me to tears and made my heart ache when I realized I had come to the end of this epically beautiful story of love and loss set in Italy. I’ve downloaded his next book Harvard Square, and can’t wait to delve in.
Barbara Kenney, Professor, Instructional Services and Campus Initiatives Librarian
My current read is 1776 (audiobook) by David McCullough. Listening to the author tell the thrilling and improbable story of the year our country was born is pure delight. It is a timely reminder that freedom comes at a cost, we should never take for granted that freedom, and the people who founded our country were dedicated patriots, something we could use more of these days.
My favorite (all-time) summer read: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver. For four summers, I listened to the author narrate these beautifully written, interwoven tales of life, love and the natural world in an Appalachian summer. I love this book!
John Schlinke, Architecture/Art Librarian
I’m currently reading The Island of Knowledge by Marcelo Gleiser. It is an exploration of the limits of scientific knowledge.
Nancy Jannitto, Learning Commons Administrative Assistant
Current read: Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand. I love the way she writes. It is about a woman who is planning her wedding on Nantucket Island and everything that goes wrong. It’s also very funny.
Favorite summer read: The Liar by Nora Roberts. This book had my attention from the beginning. It is about a woman who gets pregnant young and marries a man who she eventually finds out is not what he appears to be.
Linda Beith, Director of Instructional Design
I just finished Me Before You by JoJo Moyes—a romantic novel—so heartbreaking! It’s a love story but gives the reader a lot to think about around loving yourself as well (or more!) as another and the right to choose how you live.
My favorite summer read is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier— a gothic novel. I know it’s old but I enjoy revisiting it and the beautiful Manderley.
Mary Wu, Digital Scholarship and Metadata Librarian
I am fond of the classics. Right now I’m reading Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak, recommended to me by my oldest son. Not long ago, I read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens and saw outlines of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, though they are set nearly two centuries apart. So, my son may have thought it interesting to read a book about the Russian Revolution together with one about the French Revolution, to consider why one revolution led to a free, democratic France, while the other created a totalitarian Soviet regime.
Chris Truszkowski, Web and Digital Services Specialist
I’m reading Nemesis Games by James S. A. Corey. The fifth book in a series described as “the science fictional equivalent of A Song of Ice and Fire,” Nemesis Games sees a thousand new worlds opened up to humanity. During the initial waves of colonization, old governments start to buckle, ships go missing, private armies come to power and the crew of a small ship just wants to make it home through all of this.
Hannah Goodall, Learning Commons Coordinator
My current read is An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. My favorite summer read is The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli. The Lotus Eaters is about an American female journalist in Saigon during the Vietnam War. I read this the summer after I had finished traveling in Southeast Asia so I felt a bit more connected to the places the book describes. I also liked the story of a lone female photojournalist in a man’s world and war, with a hint of a love story.
Stop in at the University Library for more recommendations and to check out some great books!
In the Shadow of the Banyan explores the Cambodian people’s resilience and perseverance despite forced exodus into labor camps, torture and starvation brought on by the rise of the Khmer Rouge – which killed at least 1.7 million people – through the eyes of a 7-year-old-girl. Composed with poetic language and mythical tales, the story reveals that young Raami’s privileged existence – protected within the walls of her family’s royal compound – is far from what others were experiencing in the cities and countryside across Cambodia in the mid 1970s. But as the communist revolution sweeps the country, their royal bloodline cannot insulate them from the rebellion, and Raami’s family joins in the fight to survive.
Published in 2012, the book mirrors Ratner’s experiences as a young girl who lived through the communist uprising in Cambodia.
“By viewing the story through the eyes of a young character, students will be able to make a connection to historical events that may be far from their experiences, but in a way that allows them to envision themselves in that story,” says Director of the University Honors Program Becky Spritz, a member of the Common Reading Committee. “Fiction allows us to not distance ourselves from events that we’re reading about, and instead, to connect and be pulled into the story.”
In choosing a work of fiction that chronicles real events, the Common Reading Committee hopes to instill an appreciation of global perspectives and different cultures while exposing students to social justice issues that are endemic around the world, Spritz says.
The Common Reading program is an important part of the First Year Experience at RWU. First Year Experience programming will be focused on encouraging students to experience academic engagement inside and outside the classroom, learn to think critically, value service and civic engagement, and use services and resources that will make them successful student scholars.
Throughout the academic year, the University will explore In the Shadow of the Banyan through a series of events, including a visit to Roger Williams University from author Vaddey Ratner on Tuesday, October 13, at 7 p.m.
(Special thanks to the Common Reading Committee who were involved in the selection of this book: faculty members Becky Spritz, W. Brett McKenzie, Charlotte Carrington-Farmer, Jeremy Campbell and Paola Prado; as well as Feinstein College of Arts and Sciences Dean Robert Eisinger. via Allison Chase Padula, Associate Dean of Student Life)
Be sure to check out the exhibit in the University Library lobby. It showcases the last 10 years of Common Reading texts. The exhibit will run until October 19th.