What’s your favorite piece of literature (or theory, technique, etc.) to teach to your college students?
My favorite authors to teach are probably Charlotte Brontë and Virginia Woolf. Jane Eyre is of course a book with some plot elements that really raise our eyebrows (Edward Fairfax Rochester what ARE you doing?!) but those same elements are what help it to teach well, because it gives us real stuff to dig into and discuss. Also, Brontë burns through loads of plot, which hooks my students, while also having real religious and ethical concerns at stake, too. Woolf, meanwhile, seduces so many of my upper-level students who encounter her for the first time: the prose is so lyrical and lovely, and she has such a deep love of the everyday and quotidian: Mrs. Ramsay’s dinner scene in To the Lighthouse brings them joy every time.
Technique-wise, I kind of love collecting various people’s rules for writing and sharing them with my students. Kurt Vonnegut did a great set for a newspaper column once, and of course there are Orwell’s rules from “Politics and the English Language,” and Thomas Foster just did a great piece for Lithub on the Seven Deadly Sins of Writing. I like all these because they aren’t actually super-prescriptive rules, lists of Thou Shalt Nots, but thoughtful efforts to both make writing more clear and effective, and ideally more joyful in the process.
You seem to read by themes (Golden Age crime fiction, Summer of Irish Fiction), which seems like a fun way to organize your TBR list! But how do you choose the themes?
Some of my themes are chosen based on courses I’m planning to teach. Summer of Irish Fiction came about in part because I would really like to teach an Irish fiction class, but felt unprepared for it (my grad work focused more on poetry and drama). Then I got serious about it because a student asked to do a summer independent study and agreed to be my guinea pig for four novels by Irish women novelists, which kicked it all off. I had a streak of Commonwealth fiction a couple summers ago as prep for a different class. Golden Age crime fiction came about because I listen to the podcast Shedunnit, and I might never have heard of Ngaio Marsh or Josephine Tey without it! Sometimes my themes are dictated by time of year: during AAPI Heritage Month, for instance, I added a lot of titles by AAPI authors to my library holds list, though they come available at varying times so the theme gets stretched out over several months and interwoven with other reads. (Which is also probably how it ought to be, reading these wonderful writers all year round.)
What’s the best book you’ve read because of a Cannonball review/recommendation?
It’s hard to say best because neither was really my favorite, but also I have kept thinking about them, so they were absolutely worthwhile reads: I read Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow and Sally Rooney’s Beautiful World, Where Are You in part because CBR reviews made me curious. And although, like I said, neither was a runaway favorite for me, both novelists were doing interesting things, Zhao with the blend of sci-fi, myth, and history, and Rooney with her unusual angle on interiority, which is so opposite to a lot of what I do love to read.
How many times have you participated in CBR? How many times have you played the Book Bingo Reading Challenge?
I think I have participated in CBR four or five times, though this year and last year are the times I’ve been the most consistent about actually writing reviews. This is my first year doing Book Bingo. It’s actually been really helpful for getting me going on a review during a time of year where it’s hard for me to do non-work writing!
It’s October already! What’s your favorite fall food? Soups? Midwestern tater tot hotdish? Pumpkin spice latte?
Confession time: though I live in the Midwest, I am not a Midwesterner (West Coast, best coast, baby), so I have never ever made tater tot hotdish (a Minnesotan made it for me once, though), and my favorite food season is really summer, with all the beautiful luscious fruit and things you can grill. But I love—LOVE—making soup/stew, especially now that I live in the Midwest where the weather makes it so satisfying for like 2/3 of the year. And to bring it back to books, I ordered a cookbook that might as well have been custom-made for me, by an Irish food writer: Rachel Allen’s Soup Broth Bread and I cannot wait for it to arrive. If the recipes are good, I’ll have to review it for CBR!