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!

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

Part II of II: Recommended Reads from Dr. Frank Felsenstein

Last week, Dr. Frank Felsenstein recommended a series of books dealing with the Holocaust. In part two, he reviews John Gilstrap’s High Treason, and describes a fascinating close encounter with the author. He also reviews two titles by William Boyd.

John Gilstrap’s High Treason

Just before the end of semester, I was invited to a Ball State “Town And Gown” dinner, and, over a delicious meal, found myself sitting next to John Gilstrap, a well known thriller and screen writer, who was to be the after dinner speaker. In lively conversation, Mr. Gilstrap showed an uncanny knowledge of guns and armory.

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Part I of II: Recommended Reads from Dr. Frank Felsenstein

In part one of this recommended reads post, Dr. Frank Felsenstein reviews books he considered for two holocaust-themed courses he taught, discussing which titles proved to be the most enriching and inspiring, and which titles might have missed the mark.

Remembering the Holocaust

During the spring semester of 2014, I taught two classes – ENG 402/2 and HONORS 390B – on the theme of “Remembering the Holocaust.” This was probably the fifth or sixth time that I have taught this class, and, because of the nature of the subject matter and the emotional impact, it is a class that I would only elect to teach at most every two years or, shall we say, eighteen month at the shortest.

Krystyna Chiger’s The Girl in the Green Sweater

Several texts appeared on my syllabus for the first time this spring, and the last one we read and discussed in class, Krystyna Chiger’s The Girl in the Green Sweater, a memoir published as recently as 2011, greatly appealed to the students in both groups. Chiger is the last living survivor of a small group of Jews, including her parents and younger brother, who hid from the Nazis for over a year in the sewers of Lvov (Lemberg), now part of Ukraine. Their survival was made possible by the courage of a gentile sewer worker, Pan [Mr.] Leopold Socha, who smuggled food and other necessities to them. Pan Socha had been a petty thief, and, on paper, would not have seemed the kind of person who would be willing to challenge the authorities by saving the lives of Jews. Had he been caught – and several times he nearly was – the punishment would have been instant death.

Agnieska Holland’s, In Darkness

The Polish film maker, Agnieska Holland, made a remarkable film, called In Darkness (2011), which tells the same remarkable story. Curiously, she did not know that Krystyna was still alive when she made the film, and the two met shortly after. A copy of the film, which has as additional material the wonderful moment of meeting between the two women, is in Bracken, and it’s well worth watching. It may also draw you to the book. Continue reading

Dr. JoAnne Ruvoli Recommends “My Salinger Year” by Joanna Rakoff

In this week’s Recommended Reads post, Prof. JoAnne Ruvoli recommends My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff.

Come for the Salinger, stay for the squalor
When pre-law English majors graduate, their families often give them Scott Turow’s One L as a gift and a preview of their future life in law school. English Education majors might receive one of the numerous memoirs about the first year of teaching in secondary schools such as Lou Ann Johnson’s The Girls in the Back of the Class, Samuel Freedman’s Small Victories, or Gregory Michie’s Holler if You Hear Me.

Joanna Rakoff’s My Salinger Year is a book for the rest of us who graduate with English degrees and seek meaningful work among books and literature. Set in the year 1996, Rakoff details the twelve months after she finishes her degree and moves to New York City to find fame and fortune as a writer. She lands a job at a literary agency, as a clerk who is tasked with answering the mail that arrives for The Agency’s biggest client—J.D. Salinger. It is an extremely low paying job, but somehow glamorous, except that it is the 1990s and the office does not have a computer. Those form letters that she sends in reply to the enthusiastic readers of Catcher in the Rye have to be typed. On a typewriter. If you have forgotten what the world was like before computers and email correspondence or if you wax nostalgic for the hum of the IBM Selectric, Rakoff’s memoir time travels to the era when the world was transitioning from analog to digital, from cream-colored stationary to pixels on a screen. The Agency operates as it has always operated—with typewriters, Dictaphones, and expensive letterhead. Rakoff’s desk sits in the dark, paneled office, lit only with table lamps, and each day she stares at the shelves lined with first editions of books—some of which are worth more than double Rakoff’s salary. The names on those books sitting just across from her are synonymous with American literature. Continue reading

Prof. John King Recommends “The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual” by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh

In this week’s Recommended Reads, Prof. John King, who teaches screen writing and creative writing, recommends “The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual” by Matt Besser, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh.

Teaching is part performance. To be an effective teacher, you need to be able to perform in front of people in a way that engages them and keeps them interested. Effective teaching requires skilled presentation, quick thinking, and frequent adjustments.

If you can think on your feet and work with diverse audiences, and if you can develop public speaking skills that help you maintain an audience’s attention, then you’re helping yourself as a teacher. A dash of humor doesn’t hurt, either.

Improvisational comedy works the same way. That’s why “The Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy Improvisation Manual” is so useful to my strategies in the classroom. Continue reading

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

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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