Walk into a student’s bedroom (especially those who study English or comparative literature or [special concentration]) and you’ll often see an impressive book collections of the “non-required” variety. FM asked the following seniors about their favorite books and genres, the novels they’re excited to read, and the works they wish they had time to learn more about. Each recommended a bookshelf they admired, and we followed the extensive trail.
Matt S. Krane ’15: English concentrato, writing a creative thesis on poetry
“I, more than most people in the English concentration, enjoy a wide variety of genres. Some of these genres are not ‘classy’, or ‘cool’ to like as an English concentrator. So for example I like young adult fiction a lot. I really like ‘The Hunger Games.’ I also read a lot of fantasy like ‘Eye of the World’ by Robert Jordan. I think there’s a lot to be learned from that kind of writing because clearly something in it strikes an deeply pleasurable chord for many people. I like things that are great in their own genre form: I love good mysteries, good fantasy, good sci-fi. That’s half of what you would find.”
Krane’s interest in fantasy and young adult is clear in books he’s currently reading. “There’s young adult novels I still want to read—there’s a book called Lexicon that I want to read. I’m halfway through ‘The Magicians’ by Lev Grossman. Again, some of the ‘less classy’ stuff.”
Pointing to his poetic interests, Krane notes, “You’ll find obscure poetry. Rilke is somebody I love. … I would love to read more Leslie Scalapino. Alice Oswald is another one. She wrote a crazy poem that’s basically every death scene from the Iliad—she just translated only the death scenes. It’s called ‘Memorial’. That’s pretty brilliant.”
Recommended Reader: Julian Lucas
Julian C. Lucas ‘15: Comparative literature concentrator, president of The Harvard Advocate
Of the big greats, Julian notes that he loves Moby-Dick. He also extols Russian titans like Vladimir Nabokov and Nikolai Gogol, listing “Pale Fire,” “Lolita,” and “Dead Souls” as favorites.
“My favorite fiction writer is Vladmir Nabokov. Especially ‘Pale Fire’. Right now I’m very obsessed with these two writers, Ishmael Reed and Derek Walcott. They both are interested in voodoo and the history of the African Diaspora.
“Walcott’s famous work is ‘Omeros’: It’s about St. Lucian fishermen, but it’s patterned after Homer, basically. He uses the Homeric epic to create a Caribbean epic. Reed’s big book is ‘Mumbo Jumbo’, which is a voodoo rewriting of American history, which is also hilarious satire. It’s a mind-blowing book, I would recommend it to anyone.”
Lucas actually does manage to find time for pleasure reading through the semester. “I read ‘The Good Lord Bird’ this summer—it won the National Book Award last year. It’s about John Brown and the raid on Harper’s Ferry. It’s almost like Don Quixote-something; it’s a satirical rollicking story… It’s one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time, and it was also very moving. ‘Your Face in Mine’, by Jess Row. It’s about racial reassignment surgery; it’s a sci-fi book about race in America. … It’s a fascinating book. The author also wrote a fascinating essay about being a white straight writer whose main inspiration is James Baldwin and how people react to that and how thinking about that played into the writing of this book.”
Recommended Reader: Indiana Seresin
Indiana T. Seresin ’15: Joint Concentrator in comparative literature and women and gender studies
“A big part of my bookshelf is feminist theory and feminist philosophy. That’s my primary academic and otherwise-life interest. I have a lot of books leftover from a tutorial last year that was completely self directed on my own interest on afro-futurism. It’s sort of vaguely defined, radical political and aesthetic movement that thinks about the place of race in our conceptualization of the future and of scientific development, technological progress, outer-space—it sort of centers on race and questions of identity and sexuality as well.”
Seresin, an inactive Crimson editor, recommends a specific starting point for those following in her literary footsteps. “I would start with Samuel Delaney, who is a black, gay science fiction writer who has written a lot of fiction as well as really great critical work. I also really like Octavia Butler, who is also a wonderful science fiction writer. There are a few good anthologies, of essays and critical work about afro-futurism, that are engaging and dynamic and accessible. It’s funny though because I have this huge academic interest in science fiction, in how it relates to philosophy and utopian studies, but unlike just about everyone else I know who studies sci-fi, who comes at it as a fan—before I started reading it I never read sci-fi. It’s really interesting in a way.”