Category Archives: Recommended Reads

Looking for something good to read? Look no further! Here we feature posts by students and faculty that tell you all about the next book that you should pick up. Are you interested in sharing your favorite novel with the rest of us? Email Eva Grouling Snider at esnider@bsu.edu and tell us all about it!

Bethany Stayer Recommends "Supernatural"

In this post, English MA student Bethany Stayer recommends something a little off the beaten path as far as “reads” go. She recommends spending cold winter nights watching the television series, Supernatural.

Why should we watch this, Bethany?

If you haven’t already delved into the cultural phenomenon that is Supernatural, the seemingly endless summer hours offer you the perfect chance. Supernatural follows the adventures of Sam and Dean Winchester, two brothers who travel the country hunting demons, spooks, and anything that goes “bump” in the night (or any other time of day really). A perfect mix of horror, humor, supernatural-season-and intertextual elements that draw on myths, folktales, and superstitions from around the world, Supernatural will have you hitting “Keep Watching” again and again. There really is something for everyone here.

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Billi MacTighe Recommends "Bad Feminist" By Roxane Gay

English MA student Billi MacTighe recommends Roxane Gay’s nonfiction collection, Bad Feminist.

Why should we read this, Billi?

“I resisted feminism in my late teens and my twenties because I worried that feminism wouldn’t allow me to be the mess of a woman I knew myself to be” Roxane Gay, “Introduction; Feminism (n.): Plural”.

Roxane Gay’s recent book, Bad Feminist—a collection of essayscontains a sassy vigor reminiscent of grade-school war-stories told in ten-year retrospect; just enough time has passed to make the nostalgia wane into humor, but all of the details are still there, still potent. But the book is more than recollections and reflections, it’s a commentary on Feminism and Feminists, and, as Gay so eloquently puts it, the idea of an “Essential Feminismone true feminism to dominate all of womankind” (and the lack of existence of such an all-encompassing feminist community). Gay gives an insider’s view of what it means to be an outsider. As we follow the catalog of her experiences- tackling being an upper-middle class black woman in academia- we take a journey through cultural shifts and pop culture highlights (or low-lights, depending on where you think Chris Brown and Robin Thicke fall on the musical spectrum).

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Jennifer Grouling Recommends "The Stormlight Archive" by Brandon Sanderson

“Expectation. That is the true soul of art. If you can give a man more than he expects, then he will laud you his entire life. If you can create an air of anticipation and feed it properly, you will succeed.” (Sanderson, Words of Radiance, p. 1077)

the-way-of-kings-by-brandon-sanderson

Brandon Sanderson masters the art of expectation in his series The Stormlight Archive. A planned series of ten books, only the first two are out: The Way of Kings and Words of Radiance. Unlike other fantasy series of their length, these 1000 + page books never feel slow. Even when you have a good idea what’s coming, that sense of expectation and excitement never goes away. Sanderson exceeds expectations with engaging characters, witty dialog, creative world-building, and masterful pacing. It’s a fantasy series you’ll find seriously addictive. I’m already craving re-reading it, and I rarely re-read novels!

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Robert Young Recommends "Timequake" and "Hocus Pocus" by Kurt Vonnegut

Welcome to Summer Reads!

In this segment Ball State English brings you a selection of recommended reads to get you through the long Summer Break.

In this post, English MA student Robert Young recomends two lesser known books, Timequake and Hocus Pocus, by fellow Hoosier Kurt Vonnegut

Why should we read these, Robert?

A younger version of me fell in love with Vonnegut shortly after reading Slaughterhouse Five in high school. That younger version of me proceeded to completely devour as many of his books as possible. I read The Sirens of Titan, Mother Night, Cat’s Cradle, and even Slapstick (which is not a very good book, by the way). It was a furious summer of reading. Two of the books I devoured that summer that I’d like to highlight here were Hocus Pocus and Timequake. They’re the last two novels he ever wrote, and they might be two of my favorites, and yet I rarely hear people talk about them.

Both of these novels bear the trademark Vonnegut style of frenetic, non-chronological storytelling. I’ve always enjoyed how Vonnegut will spell out the endings of his books early on, and yet still find ways to keep you interested (“It ends like this: ‘Poo-tee-weet?’”). Hocus Pocus and Timequake are no different.Kurt_Vonnegut_1972

Vonnegut has his satire sights set firmly upon the Vietnam War in Hocus Pocus, but the book also has things to say about the majority of American life. Calling it a novel might be a bit of a stretch, as the book is built entirely out of short, mostly paragraph or shorter chunks of text. This is due to the fact that Vonnegut wrote the entire book on a series of scraps of paper (letters, paper bags, etc.), and the novel is presented in this way. This gives the novel a kind of quickness to it. It’s a fast read, and it seems all over the place, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. The structure is about the madness of thought, and it’s something that Vonnegut manages to control.

Vonnegut’s always danced on that line between science fiction and traditional literary fiction. Hocus Pocus, however, has little to no sci-fi elements, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of satire here. In fact, this is the one I remember when I think of his most biting satire. He’s got things to say about everything from the military and war to class, being a teacher, and just America in general. Due to the structure of the book being quite disparate, it’s hard to latch onto a concrete plot, but the novel succeeds in filling in the gaps with Vonnegut’s humor and strong voice, which adds to the character.

There’s always an ever present element of autobiography in Vonnegut’s work. It doesn’t take much to notice, but none of his books have more of this aspect than his final novel Timequake. Marketed as a novel, this book really can’t be called that. Or can it? The book goes back and forth between nostalgically reminiscing about various events in Vonnegut’s life and ruminating on a novel he struggled to write called Timequake, wherein the whole world of 2001 is sent back in time to 1991 to relive the entire decade. People are forced to make the exact same choices that they did previously, relive the entire stretch of time, aware, and unable to change. People are forced to relive miserable car crashes and watch their loved ones die all over again. The book digs deep into themes of sadness, depression, and how people cope and move on. It’s not exactly a happy read by the way, but there’s a bittersweet quality to it.

As stated previously, Timequake waxes back and forth between this other novel and what essentially amounts to creative non-fiction—Vonnegut writing of his own life, inserting himself into the novel. The book is split into chapters, but the chapters themselves are very arbitrary, as a chapter break will rarely end a train of thought or mark the end of a scene. Vonnegut’s trademark cynicism is present, but Timequake always struck me as being deep down actually quite sincere. There’s a lot of emotion in the book, especially in the sections where he talks about his sister and brother, and this one more than any of his other books really stuck with me as being quite emotional.

If you’re someone who was a fan of Vonnegut in the past but never tried out his later novels, give them a read; both of these novels feel profoundly different from his earlier work. Alternatively, if you’re someone looking for a few additions to your summer reading list, give them a read! They won’t disappoint. Or maybe they will. Nobody’s perfect.

Emily Jo Scalzo Recommends "Transmetropolitan" by Warren Ellis

In this segment Ball State English brings you a selection of “Recommended Reads” to get you through the long Summer Break.

In this post, assistant professor Emily Jo Scalzo recommends a wild and insanely fun ride perfect for the summer, the graphic novel series Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis.

Why should we read this, Emily?

Some years ago, a graphic novel series, Transmetropolitan, by Warren Ellis, was recommended to me by transmetroan online friend from the Bahamas (who likes to cosplay the main character). The ten volume series made it into my collection, and has been toted thousands of miles through my last five or so moves. I reread it about once a year and continually find new aspects to appreciate. References to the Vietnam era, major works of literature and film, religion, politics, and our culture as a whole can be seen throughout. Straddling the genres of sci-fi, political thriller, and dystopia, this series toys with our hopes, dreams, fears, and nightmares, proposing a future both fantastic and terrible.

Transmetropolitan revolves around the antics of a very angry journalist named Spider Jerusalem, who would much prefer to be holed up in a mountain cabin with a stock of ammo. The fine print in a book deal, however, has brought him back to what passes for civilization. In Spider’s futuristic world, the City spans much of the East Coast. Humanity has developed fantastic and wonderful advances, as well as, of course, the horrible ones. The humans of Spider’s future have brought back extinct species. They can clone and mold the mind of humans. People who were cryogenically frozen at death with hopes of being reanimated in the future have found their dreams realized. With a protein, the problem of hunger has been solved. Humans can take animal form for a day, and can even permanently alter their genetic code to match an alien species.

And yet, humanity has failed to combat poverty and the foibles of human nature. Slums still exist, ravaged by terrible diseases that are entirely treatable. Reservations have been formed to recreate doomed societies for the viewing pleasure of the populace. The cryo-resurrected Revivals are ridiculed and persecuted for their culture shock. Those adopting alien DNA are dubbed “Transients,” subject to segregation and prejudice. Even though this future society has an abundance of wealth, has solved the energy problem, and has a host of technological and biological wonders, humanity cannot escape itself, especially when it comes to the political landscape.

This is where the Ahabesque anger of Spider comes into play: just as he is forced out of his hermit lifestyle, his America is gearing up for a Presidential election between the incumbent Beast and the challenging Smiler, which promises to sink to depravities difficult to imagine. Or perhaps not so difficult—it is, after all, an election year. Despite his best efforts, Spider is drawn into the election personally, in part due to his previous journalistic endeavors against the Beast, but also because of his investigative findings of this election, leaving him angry, disillusioned, and not afraid to use his stomping boots to make an impression. Or his favorite weapon, the illegal Bowel Disruptor set on prolapse.

As we get closer to November and become more and more fatigued by the election, many of us can perhaps find solace in the shenanigans of Spider Jerusalem. I know I will. I have my own copies at home, but Bracken library also has Transmetropolitan, so feel free to head on over there and check it out, along with the rest of the graphic novel section.

Dr. Megumi Hamada recommends "THE SCIENCE OF READING"

The Science of Reading (2010), edited by Snowling and Hulme, is a volume in the series Blackwell Handbooks of Developmental Psychology, published by Blackwell. This volume offers comprehensive coverage of most of the recent research
in cognitive and linguistic processes involved in reading.

For those who are fluent readers, reading seems to happen without much conscious attention. Although this may be true, the brain is still processing information from the given text. The Science of Reading illustrates how our mind works during reading in English and other languages. The book contains 27 chapters, which are divided among seven sections: word recognition processes in reading, learning to read and spell, reading comprehension, reading in different languages, disorders of reading and spelling, biological bases of reading, and teaching reading.9780470757635

The Science of Reading views reading from an information-processing point of view. Under this view, reading is considered an accumulation of simpler processing (e.g., letter, word recognition) built onto more complex processing (e.g., discourse comprehension).

During the 1970s and 1980s, when a top-down approach to reading was more prevalent, it was thought that readers do not need to pay attention to individual words. Reading was viewed as a “psycholinguistic guessing game” (Goodman, 1973), and the reader’s job was to hypothesize what a given text means based upon their own background knowledge. The information in the text, such as meanings of words, was believed to merely confirm the hypothesis, rather than be the main source of information for understanding the text. Continue reading

Pat Collier: Twenty-some films I think anyone who loves movies should see

A couple weeks before the spring semester ended, one of the students in English 425 (Film Studies) asked if I would make him a list of my top twenty movies. I said I would try, but wasn’t sure what I could offer. I didn’t have one at the ready, not having kept these sorts of lists since I was in about seventh grade, making and circulating lists of my Top 10 songs around the classroom. (I recall with some embarrassment that “Hotel California” was way up there.)

The problem today is that I like too many movies, and have seen enough in the last decade or so that I barely remember colliermany of them. Shortly after I started teaching English 425, around 2004, I made a point to spend many hours each summer catching up on essential films, directors, and traditions that I had missed along the way. Once, I watched ten Bergman films in a little over a week. I was amazed and moved by them all, but only Persona and Scenes from a Marriage have remained distinct in my mind. I did the same with Antonioni, with Kurosawa. Impossible to pick a top 20 from among these, to say nothing of the much larger cohorts of 1940s and 50s Classical Hollywood and noir films that I watch again and again, or the New Hollywood films (Mean Streets, The Godfather Part II) that first showed me that there could be more to film than escapist entertainment.

I gave up quickly on the effort to make a definitive list, and instead decided just to write up short descriptions of the first twenty or so movies that came to mind when I thought about movies that seem great to me. This list is quite predictable, I suspect. It has no consistent aesthetic, though it is skewed heavily towards my classical Hollywood comfort zone and to the auteurs (Hitchcock, Kubrick) that first ignited my fanboy enthusiasm for film. They are in no particular order: “first to knock, first admitted,” as Saul Bellow put it.

If anything holds them together, it’s that even the heaviest among them (2001, Children of Men) give some sort of characteristically cinematic pleasure, and even the lightest (CasablancaHis Girl Friday) provide something to think about. Continue reading

Holiday Reads: Craig O’Hara Recommends David Eagleman

Welcome to Holiday Reads!

In this segment, Ball State English brings you a selection of recommended reads just in time for the Winter Break.

In this post, Assistant Professor Craig O’Hara recommends Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives by David Eagleman.

Why should we read this, Craig?

Brevity can be one of the most difficult things to accomplish in a work of art. How much can a writer really say about our troubling and beautiful human existence in less than ten pages? In less than five? One of the reasons I never fail to recommend the flash fiction pieces in David Eagleman’s Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlives to students, colleagues, and pretty much anyone else who will listen is that Eagleman does so much to illuminate and complicate our view of existence in just two or three pages. As if that weren’t enough, those few pages present his artistic vision in a way that always seems to surprise, astonish, and entertain. A combination like that–well, now you have fiction truly worth reading. Continue reading

Holiday Reads: Rachel Crawley Recommends “Stuck Between Stations”

Welcome to Holiday Reads!

StuckIn honor of the holidays, Ball State English brings you Holiday Reads, a series of recommended books (or in this case–films!) from #bsuenglish students and faculty.

For our first installment, senior literature major Rachel Crawley recommends the film Stuck Between Stations, directed by Brady Kiernan.

Tell us about this film, Rachel.

I spent this past summer re-reading the Harry Potter series and moving every single thing out of the house my family has lived in for twenty-one years. (I also drank as much iced coffee as possible, but that’s a given for any summer.) While I definitely recommend that everyone revisit Hogwarts every now and then and also that you think very long and hard before buying anything new because one day you will have to put it in a box and carry it to a new location, I mostly recommend watching films that feel like summer nights. Summer nights are inherently perfect, and corresponding films are appropriate year-round.

Stuck Between Stations (2011, dir. Brady Kiernan) follows two former-high-school acquaintances as they make their way around Minneapolis one night. It’s a walk-and-talk—ninety minutes of character development with not a lot of action. Rebecca (Zoe Lister-Jones) and Casper (Sam Rosen) visit a few different locations (a couple of bars, an awkward party, an all-night grocery store), but nothing really happens. Despite this, the film doesn’t drag. Continue reading

English Literature Alum Kaylie DiGiacomo Recommends Beowulf

By J. R. Skelton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In this installment of our recommended reads series, Kaylie DiGiacomo, an English Department alum who graduated in May with a focus on Literature, recommends the newly released translation of Beowulf by J.R.R. Tolkien.

During my early teen years I made it a challenge to see how difficult of a book I could read successfully, partly out of a genuine interest in improving my reading abilities but mostly out of the misguided belief that I could brag about having read such a book, as if my peers would marvel at my intellect.

Though I look back and groan at that attitude, my old habit of choosing the dustiest and least approachable books did have its benefits, especially after I ventured to read Beowulf (700–1025?). I first picked up Seamus Heaney’s side-by-side translation of Beowulf expecting what many might from the oldest surviving epic written in English: something antiquated and unrelatable; a hack-and-slash warrior adventure written in the dead husk of Old English.

What I found was a poignant and haunting story about meaning and mortality in a world where death is glory. Continue reading