Monthly Archives: May 2014

Cooper Cox Recommends “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by H.G. Wells

In this week’s Recommended Reads post, Cooper Cox, a senior majoring in Creative Writing, recommends The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells.

You might have last read H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) in high school, some time in the midst of writing deeply analytical essays or reading whatever classic literature was on the syllabus, but it’s good to revisit ghosts from our pasts. Almost five years since I last read Wells’ science fiction novel, I decided to reread the novel and to put aside the socio-political and racial criticisms I studied in high school and just enjoy the writing. I thoroughly enjoyed The Island of Dr. Moreau the second time around, but I couldn’t stop analyzing. Though high school is a dim memory, I found the novel’s writing and criticisms coming back to life—molding into a modern silhouette of humanity.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is the story of Edward Prendick, a biologist who is shipwrecked and saved by a passing boat and its mysterious crew who works for the infamous vivisectionist Dr. Moreau. The doctor’s work surgically transforms animals into human-like creatures: hyena men, an ape assistant, even an experimental part-horse and part-dog creation. Before you are turned off by such animal cruelty, think about the social analysis. A panther turned into a man is not just an entertaining plot decoration; it’s the bones of a greater ploy—the questioning of what separates man from animal. Continue reading

Student Blake Mellencamp discusses young adult literature after Skype session with author Eliot Schrefer

In Dr. Susanna Benko’s ENG 414: Young Adult Literature class this past Spring semester, students read Eliot Schrefer’s novel Endangered. Afterward, she asked him to speak to the class on Skype. In this post, student Blake Mellencamp discusses the visit and his views on young adult literature. 

Young adult literature has achieved a troubling reputation in academic culture of being seen as less than literary. If you’re one who’s settled into this mindset, though, then think again, because young adult literature may just be some of the most dynamic writing of today. The books digested by adolescent readers are anything but watered down. In fact, many esteemed novels of the genre are pushing literature to new frontiers. These books deal with real, tough issues and diverse settings across the world ranging from the little-studied Balkan Genocide to futuristic dystopias to the dismal conditions of American Indian reservations.

On April 8th, Ball State’s Young Adult Literature course was fortunate enough to Skype with author Eliot Schrefer about his popular novel Endangered, a finalist for the National Book Award. This novel takes us to a setting remarkably foreign for the average American young adult reader: the war-torn Congo. While in academic circles we may find most of our cursory knowledge of this region coming from Heart of Darkness, I must admit that Schrefer’s well-researched portrayal of Congo might trounce Joseph Conrad’s. In our “classic” literature, we are provided a biased view of imperialism that gives no consideration to the African mindset. We are confronted with a limitless savagery that in no way resembles the world as we know it to be. Endangered turns this view on its head, giving us an immersive cultural experience in which the reader can be exposed realistically to an unfamiliar setting.

When Schrefer first proposed the title, his agent asked if the author was writing a dystopian novel. With The Hunger Games and Divergent dominating book sales, the agent made a fair guess. However, Endangered is distinct from its peers in terms of subject matter. Endangered follows Sophie, a young Congolese-American girl visiting her mother’s bonobo sanctuary who rescues a baby ape named Otto from a vendor on the streets of Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. When military conflict surges through the nation, Sophie and Otto must escape through the dangerous jungle. Through the story of Sophie and Otto, the audience absorbs the tangled geography and political conflicts of Congo. We are shown the consequence of imperialism firsthand and are guided by empathetic characters.

Schrefer told our class that the first inkling of Endangered was born when he purchased a pair of pants from an online retailer called Bonobos. At first, he thought that the brand was just a nonsense word, but after searching online, Schrefer became acquainted with the bonobo: a great ape closely related to the chimpanzee and sharing a great deal of its DNA with human beings. Indigenous only to the Congo, the biological research on bonobos led to a great deal of historical research on the country itself. Eventually this research brought Schrefer to a bonobo sanctuary – and you can find some YouTube videos of this experience that are to die for.  A few internet searches led to the creation of Eliot Schrefer’s Great Ape Quartet, the second of which, Threatened, was released in March. Threatened deals with chimpanzees, and there will be an additional two novels revolving around gorillas and orangutans.

Schrefer left our class with a remarkable insight. For years, evolutionary psychologists studying chimpanzees have looked at the apes’ war-like social structure and have deemed human conflict as perhaps being inevitable. However, we are equally related to the bonobos, who curiously lack war and live in peace. Amidst the most violent region in the world, Endangered offers hope in the form of an alternative view of humanity’s heritage. If this is what our young adults want to read, I’m all for it.

To learn more about Eliot Schrefer, visit his website or follow him on Twitter.

Professor Andrew Scott discusses the process of editing and publishing his anthology ’24 Bar Blues’

Assistant professor of English Andrew Scott edited the anthology 24 Bar Blues: Two Dozen Tales of Bars, Booze, and the Blues, which was published in March 2013. For an inside look at 24 Bar Blues, read the interview below conducted by English department intern Daniel Brount. 

1. What was the inspiration for “24 Bar Blues”?

I play bass guitar—badly. One of the most popular chord progressions in music is called 12-bar blues. I became obsessed with the name of that progression, all three components, around the time I finished undergrad at Purdue. Not long after, I had the idea to edit an anthology of twelve stories set in bars. In my reading of contemporary short stories, it seemed that writers of all stripes were interested in telling stories at least partly set in bars. Oh, sure, the stories might refer to them as roadhouses, blues clubs, pubs, honky-tonks, dives, or even country clubs, but at the end of the day, bars are bars.

I shared my idea with the editor of an anthology I admired. She liked the idea, too, but thought twelve stories wasn’t enough for an anthology. I agreed, but as it turns out, 24-bar blues is a chord progression, too, so I just doubled my original idea.

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Professor Brian D. Morrison Recommends “The Lice” by W.S. Merwin

In this week’s Recommended Reads post, professor Brian D. Morrison recommends The Lice by W. S. Merwin.

The Lice serves as a pinnacle of experimental lyric poetry. Merwin, who in years past wrote several collections dominated by the narrative form, examples include Dancing with Bears and Green with Beasts, doesn’t necessarily change poetry altogether with his radical shift in style, but he does allow for the play and movement of craft so often seen today from poets like Daniela Olszewska and Zachary Schomburg.

What I find both thrilling and immensely terrifying are the vast differences between Merwin’s first four books, which are by and large “project” books (those rooted in singular themes) and the next four. With the name removed, a reader might well see two different poets at work. But, of course, that begs the question, doesn’t it? Who reads Merwin now? Who would want to a read a nearly fifty year-old book?

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