Category Archives: Reviews

Jeremy Carnes Recommends “Supergods” by Grant Morrison

In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series, Graduate Assistant and M.A. student Jeremy Carnes recommends Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison.

“It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No it’s…” Grant Morrison. Acclaimed comic book author and creator behind such feats as All Star Superman, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and his own personal creation, The Invisibles, Grant Morrison is a tour de force in the comic community. Having worked for both of the big two (Marvel and DC), we can trust Morrison to have a view and knowledge of the comic book world that few others possess. Pair this superior knowledge with Morrison’s superhuman ability to spin a great tale, and we are left with Supergods.

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Andrew Neylon Recommends Blue Valentine directed by Derek Cianfrance

In the latest installment of our “Recommended Reads” series, Andrew Neylon, a senior literature major, recommends Blue Valentine, a film directed by Derek Cianfrance.

When I was a kindergartner in the mid 1990s, only one boy in our class had divorced parents. We were all made aware of this through monthly parent nights, and in the way that children often do, we summarily ostracized the boy for being, well, different.

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Dr. Amit Baishya Recommends “Incendies,” a Denis Villeneuve Film

In the latest installment of our “Recommended Reads” series, English Professor Amit Baishya recommends Incendies, a Denis Villeneuve film.

Based on Wajdi Mouawad’s play Scorched, the Canadian production Incendies (2010, directed by Dennis Villeneuve) is one of the best films I have seen in the last five years. The plot of Incendies moves back and forth between present-day Canada and Lebanon and the period of the civil war in Lebanon (while Canada is mentioned in the film, we don’t find a direct reference to Lebanon. However, we can infer the location from the textual details). With Oedipus the King and Antigone as its obvious subtexts, Incendies hauntingly explores how traumatic events endured during periods of war transmit themselves across generations. Incendies is, to use Marianne Hirsch’s term, a powerful exploration of “post-memory.” Like Oedipus, Incendies opens with a mystery that impels one of its primary protagonists to return to Lebanon and retrace the effaced signs of an unknown past. After the death of Nawal Marwan (Lubna Azabal) in Canada, her children, the twins Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin) and Simon (Maxim Gaudette), learn of her “strange” last request. Nawal wants her body to be buried face down until her children deliver two letters—one to the father of the children and the other to their brother. Both Jeanne and Simon are shocked by these disclosures as they hadn’t heard of their father or their brother before.

Spoiler Alert: The rest of the post contains many plot-sensitive details.

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Dr. Andrea Powell Wolfe Recommends “Room” by Emma Donoghue

This semester we are introducing Recommended Reads, a new segment in which Ball State students and faculty contribute a short review of a recommended piece of literature. Continue below to read our first installment in the series, Dr. Andrea Wolfe’s review of Room by Emma Donoghue. Be sure to check back for a new Recommended Reads post every Friday.

A thrilling and often heart-wrenching page-turner, Emma Donoghue’s Room also serves as a study of the stages of psychosexual development set out by Lacan and revised by later feminist psychoanalytic theorists.  The novel is narrated by Jack, a seemingly contented boy of five who, at the beginning of the story, has never left the single-room apartment that he shares with his mother.  The only person to enter and exit the room is Old Nick, who comes in the night after Jack is supposed to be asleep in the wardrobe where he sleeps.  Ma eventually reveals to Jack that Nick abducted her seven years ago and that she and Jack are his captives.  The two of them implement an escape plan, and the rest of the novel is about their adaptation to the outside world.

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Springtime on the Thames: What Prof. Elizabeth Dalton is Reading

Elizabeth Dalton

On Kindle: John Keats, Anna Quindlen, Monica Ali, William Shakespeare, and Dava Sobel. In my book bag: Anthony Burgess, Helene Hanff, and Virginia Woolf. On the coffee table: Zadie Smith.

What am I reading? Why London, of course.

This May, a group of Honors students will accompany Dr. James Ruebel and me to Rome and London as part of a field study colloquium wrapping up our Honors Humanities sequence, a series of Honors classes devoted to the study of Western literature, philosophy, and art. Rome and London, two key cities in the narrative of Western Civilization, are connected by way of the ancient Romans themselves, whose infrastructure—including the ruins of old walls—can still be seen in London today.

There are too many literary connections to name, but our focus settled on English poet John Keats, who spent his last months in Rome attempting to recover from tuberculosis. In ­ABBA ABBA, Anthony Burgess (English author of A Clockwork Orange) reimagines these last days as a meeting of the minds between the dying Keats and a famous, conflicted Roman poet, Giuseppe Gioachino Belli. The two poets are initially at odds, but philosophically united by the universal beauty of the sonnet form and its ability to accommodate a variety of languages and subject matter. The end of the book was no surprise to me, but Burgess’s language-play and ruminations on the purpose of art and poetry made me long to see Keats’s Spanish Steps and visit Belli’s statue in the Trastevere. And in London, a visit to Keats’s Hampstead residence will be in order.

During Christmas break, I spent a snowy day reading Anna Quindlen’s Imagined London: A Tour of the World’s Greatest Fictional City. In this literary travel guide, the author traces her fascination with the city through some of her favorite literature. In this brief overview of the city’s most popular literature, she mentions some of the other texts I am reading this semester, including Mrs. Dalloway, one of my all-time favorite books. In this quintessential London novel, Virginia Woolf trains the readers’ gaze on her characters as their paths intersect in the London streets and parks on a beautiful June day. Thrumming underneath their feet is all of London’s ancient past, and permeating the air they breathe is the far-reaching stench of the recently concluded World War I. In May, some of my students and I will retrace some of  Clarissa’s footsteps along Bond Street, and reenact Elizabeth Dalloway’s exhilarating bus ride to the Strand.

A London matron of more recent vintage is Nazneen, main character of Monica Ali’s popular and controversial novel, Brick Lane. Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003, this novel traces the self-initiated emancipation of a Bangladeshi woman who finds herself on the banks of the Thames, married to a Bangladeshi man twice her age.   An uneducated village girl, Nazneen is out of her element and unable to speak English, but uses her native resourcefulness to guide her family through the tense months leading to and following September 11, 2001.

A more pleasant London-American connection is the true story of Helene Hanff, an American writer whose fascination with rare old books led her to a twenty-year correspondence with a London used book dealer named Frank Doel (whom she sometimes calls “Frankie”). Collected in the book, 84 Charing Cross Road, the letters document an increasingly warm and personal relationship between book lovers on separate continents. Far more engaging than the awkward 1987 film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins, the letters are full of personality. “WHAT KIND OF BLACK PROTESTANT BIBLE IS THIS?” Hanff demands upon receiving a requested copy of the Anglican New Testament in Latin. “Kindly inform the Church of England they have loused up the most beautiful prose ever written, whoever told them to tinker with the Vulgate Latin? They’ll burn for it, mark my words.” Doel responds with characteristic British calm and continues to provoke Hanff’s delight and feigned exasperation with his literary finds. Marks & Co. has long since closed, but we will stroll past the old store front anyhow, and pop into a few other used bookstores on Charing Cross Road.

Other texts I’ll be getting to this semester include Dava Sobel’s Longitude, an account of John Harrison’s quest to solve the longitude problem in the early 18th century. We’ll see some of his famous clocks as well as the International Dateline when we cruise down the Thames to Greenwich. And what trip to London would be complete without a visit to the Globe Theatre? We haven’t yet settled on a play, but an hour or two of the flight across the pond will be devoted to reading one of the Bard’s comedies.

After our return to the States? Current luggage restrictions may limit our souvenir shopping while we’re overseas, but I can always revisit London through E.M. Forster, W. M. Thackeray, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Fay Weldon, Zadie Smith, and Nick Hornby.

—Elizabeth Dalton, English Instructor

“You Gotta Read This!” with Professor Debbie Mix

Debbie Mix

Anyone who has talked to me for more than, say, five minutes, probably knows the first book on this list: Moby-Dick.  Why?  Because it’s about everything!  Love, grief, justice, power, gender, epistemology, language, disability, anger, belief, history, responsibility, humor, awe, identity, race—and that’s just the beginning.  I’ll admit that I didn’t pick up this book by choice the first time (I had to read it in grad school), but now I pick it up regularly, and I really think you should, too.  After Moby-Dick the choices get harder, but here are a few more books I read this summer that I think are worth your time and effort:

Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood: These two books are linked—two perspectives on a single set of events—and I read them side-by-side. These stories take us to a future riven by economic and genetic distinctions, and ask us to follow, and care about, the lives of characters living in different circumstances in that world.  Global warming, genetic modification, the gap between the haves and have-nots, pandemic diseases, all these subjects (and more) are Atwood’s concern.

Stuck Rubber Baby, by Howard Cruse: It tells the story of Toland Polk, growing up white and gay in a small southern town in the middle of the Civil Rights movement.  The combination of image and text creates a compelling and profoundly human narrative about the intersections of the personal and political.  Cruse’s book is a great example of the nearly unlimited potential of graphic narrative to address complex issues in more than black and white ways.

The Circus in Winter, by Cathy Day: Even if Cathy Day hadn’t just joined our English Department, I’d encourage you to read this wonderful collection of linked short stories.  Set in the fictional town of Lima, Indiana (a stand-in for Peru, Indiana), these stories center around the Great Porter Circus, which makes its winter home in Lima.  We see the lives of performers, clowns, animal trainers, and others linked to the circus by chance, desire, and heredity.  At times funny, poignant, and heartbreaking, this collection is always humane and always fascinating.

The Plague of Doves, by Louise Erdrich: Too often American Indians are represented in American culture as artifacts of the past rather than as citizens of the present.  One of Erdrich’s most important projects as a novelist has been to challenge that myth through her beautiful and unflinching depictions of present-day indigeneity.  This book, set on an Ojibwe reservation and the nearby town of Pluto, North Dakota, reaches back to the past—the brutal murders of a white family near the reservation in 1911—but its attention is on the present as Erdrich’s signature style of multiple intersecting narratives and gorgeous detail fills in the whole story.

Book Review: Alice I have Been by Melanie Benjamin

The infatuation with Alice in Wonderland has been an everlasting wonder since the release of the book, written by Lewis Carroll, in 1865.  It became even more popular with the release of Disney’s animated film, but became a craze with the release of the 3D version of the film on March 5th, 2010.  However, not many people are aware of the true meaning behind this phenomenon.

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