English/Theatre Professor Sherwood Kiraly
For his recommendation, Visiting Professor in English & Theatre Sherwood Kiraly said that “The Writer’s Chapbook: A Compendium of Fact, Opinion, Wit, and Advice from the 20th Century’s Preeminent Writers” is a compilation of interviews from The Paris Review from the past several decades.
The compilation was produced by George Plimpton, who founded The Paris Review. It features excerpts from a variety of author’s interviews and is arranged by subject matter. In each subject, Plimpton takes excerpts from around 12 to 15 interviews from writers such as Hemingway and Faulkner to more contemporary writers.
Kiraly considers this work to be a valuable writer’s aid that could serve as inspiration for new writers. He noted that the work discusses potential issues such as work habits, style, writer’s block and different kinds of writing.
“It’s like going into a giant writer’s convention and hearing them all talk about every possible aspect of writing” Kiraly said.
While a writer may not be able to make use of every part of the compilation, Kiraly believes that the advice illustrated throughout the work is valuable to current writers. A writer who is struggling with grammar, inspiration or certain plot obstacles can find a section dealing with those specific issues and read valuable advice coming from around a dozen successful writers.
English Professor Chad Simpson
Associate Professor of English Chad Simpson chose “How to Set a Fire and Why” by Jesse Ball, which was released in July 2016.
Simpson, who is a fan of Ball’s work, commends him for his ability to create fictional worlds that resemble our own but have slight difference. He described that many of his works are centered around a protagonist attempting to be a force of resistance in a world that appears to be governed by malice.
The protagonist of “How to Set a Fire and Why” deals with the common obstacles encompassed in adolescence but also deals with poverty and an aversion to most of her other classmates.
Simpson feels as though the novel contains themes that are pertinent to today’s society more than they ever have been. In wake of the recent political and social changes, Simpson considers Lucia’s attitude and mentality toward life to be one that is becoming more common in today’s youth. Lucia tries to figure out alternate approaches to situations in which she is oppressed and acts as a sort of resistance.
He noted that, after hearing about all of the protests occurring throughout the nation, the rhetoric behind the novel has become more meaningful. He elaborated that it seemed like Ball was anticipating the election results considering its outcomes, and writing a novel to work against or warn against that result.
English Professor Barbara Tannert-Smith
Barbara Tannert-Smith, Associate Professor of English mentioned several recommendations, including “The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories,” which has several authors and is an Oxford Publication, “Portrait of a Lady,” by Henry James and “The Satanic Mill” by Otfried Preussler.
Tannert-Smith found all of the works appealing in the sense that they all had a nostalgic quality, and make use of a melancholy tone. She clarified that, while the works all contain a theme of sadness, they avoid angst and lean more toward themes of escapism.
She first came across the novel “The Satanic Mill” in the ‘70s after her mom brought it home for her. After several years, she happened to come across the title while working in a bookstore, and was determined to find a copy.
She described that Preussier’s use of landscape and snow to propel the narrative is effective, and she re-reads the novel each year before the winter holidays. The plot is set in the 17th century and centers around a boy who ends up receiving a telepathic message luring him to a water mill containing black magic.
Tannert-Smith considers the compilation of ghost stories found in “The Oxford Book of Victorian Ghost Stories” to be more impactful than other more contemporary stories, in the sense that they are more peculiar and contain more themes of neuroses than those of modern ghost stories. She feels that the neuroses make for a more compelling tale, and are able to provoke more of a reaction than modern ghost stories are.