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Summer Reading 2015 – A Whale of a List!

27 Apr

For the last couple of years, Who Are These People Anyway? has been happy to share summer reading plans with you: what we’re reading, what we think you should read, and how we did with last year’s resolutions.  Here’s the 2015 installment; just peruse the WATPA? archive if you want to read the older ones.

Stephanie Roach
My reading list this summer includes Tana French’s The Secret Place.  I have a thing for reading debut novels and got totally hooked by French’s debut In the Woods. I’ve enjoyed each book after even more (The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor), and I’ve heard The Secret Place  is the best yet of her literary mysteries.French

Last summer I planned to read S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst and that is the book I would recommend.  It is a fascinating study in how characters are developed, how suspense is built, and how we think about the book as an object.  Reading this book is unlike any other reading experience I’ve ever had.  This review in The Guardian includes a short video clip of what it is like to unfold the pages of S.: .  If you are looking for something different, unique, complex, and nerdy-cool, then this is your book.


Fred Svoboda
What’s on your summer reading list? More John Updike as (I hope) I finish my book on him for University of South Carolina Press. I’ll be reading mysteries and histories as my breaks from serious fiction.John-Updike-002

What you hope your students read this summer: I want them to read all the novels for the courses that they are taking from me in the fall, so that they can have the pleasure and insight of rereading during fall semester. (Also, this will help obviate suicidal feelings while faced by the likes of Moby-Dick and The Portrait of a Lady, big, big 19th century novels.) I always email the reading lists to enrolled students at the beginning of the summer.mobydick

How your planned reading from last summer went: I didn’t even turn in a reading list last summer. I had too much to do!!


James Schirmer
On my reading list:

  • H Is For Hawk, by Helen MacDonald
  • Girl In A Band, by Kim Gordon600full-sonic-youth
  • A Stranger In Olondria, by Sofia Samatar
  • Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What I hope students read this summer:
Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
I came late to this book, but I’ve been rereading every year for the past three years now.  Great characters in a great story & technical communication in the service of a narrative!

Cathy Akers-Jordan
My Utopian dreams for the summer involve more writing than reading but I am currently re-reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine Dandelion Wineand considering the possibility of doing a composition class using the book as the theme. I like it because it deals with all the big questions of life, love, fear, death, wonder, joy and everything else you can think of. It’s the one book I’d like my students to read this summer, too, for a vivid immersion into early-twentieth-century life (BEFORE the Internet! Gasp!) through savory, lyrical language they’ve probably never experienced before. For me reading a Bradbury book is like eating potato chips: you can’t read just one. Next on the reading list are Something Wicked This Way Comes, One More for the Road, The Toynbee Convector, Dark Carnival, The Machineries of Joy, I Sing the Body Electric and many of his other wonderful story collections. Ray thoughtful

 Some of his books are listed here.


Emily Feuerherm

On my summer reading list is Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. This book was passed down to me from my uncle, who besides being an accomplished teacher and researcher, was my inspiration to study linguistics. Many thanks, Uncle Fred!

wildI hope students will read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, by Cheryl Strayed, because it is a beautiful true story of strength and hope. When I read it two years ago, before the movie had been made, I yearned to explore the PCT. That yearning grew with every page-turn, despite the hardships and lost toenails Strayed describes. Last year, my husband and I hiked just a very few miles of the PCT through desolation wilderness (near Lake Tahoe) and it was just as challenging and beautiful as she describes. Now, having just moved to Flint from Northern California, I will admit I miss the Sierra Nevada mountains, but look forward to backpacking in the UP this summer. Students, if you have an opportunity to hike any part of the PCT, do it! But prepare better than Cheryl Strayed, and pack lighter.

Jacob Blumner
My summer reading list includes JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I’m rereading them as our twins discover them.  It seems, though, that I will need to find things to add to the list quickly because they read The Hobbit already — in about two days.  Suggestions?  I also want to read Last Child in the Woods, by Richard Louv, since I’m an outdoor enthusiast and want to find ways to rationalize my values.  last-child-louv

I hope students read at least one novel this summer, preferably the paper kind.  There is beauty in the meditative experience of losing oneself in a physical book.


D. J. Trela
Last summer I worked my way through a number of biographies, and want again to tout Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Steve Jobs. To my mind, this is one of the finest contemporary biographies to appear in the last twenty years. My students last fall were fascinated by the story of a College drop-out who changed the world with his computers, I-phones, Pixar movie technology and I-pads/pods. Practically everything we do with technology not only has Steve Jobs’ fingerprints all over it, but his DNA in its design. That said, he was often an insensitive jerk. Go figure.

jane-austen-frontispiece-1870For summer 2015 my reading will again primarily be prep-work for fall classes. I am two thirds of the way through all of Jane Austen’s six completed novels, all but one of which (in my opinion) is “perfect, in being far too short.” To find out which one you’d need to enroll in my fall senior seminar in English. (Clue: It isn’t Emma.) For at least a couple of novels in the course itself, we’ll take a close look at Austen’s incomparable narrative and dialogue and see whether Hollywood offers any improvement on her storylines.

Last summer I also mentioned wanting to read Five Came Back, which dealt with how WWII experiences influenced the post-war film-making of five classic Hollywood directors. This was an insightful work that helped me take fresher looks at films directed by Frank Capra, John Ford and Howard Hawks. I highly recommend the book for devotees of classic Hollywood films.

While I’m not a great reader of magazines, I subscribe to (and recommend) The New Yorker to any and all. The articles are thoughtful, often offbeat, always intelligently written, and sometimes memorable.

And, along the lines of the Woody Allen character Zelig, maybe one of these summers I’ll read Moby-Dick.


Scott Atkinson
My list is ever-changing, but here’s what I’ve led myself to believe I’ll be reading in the coming months.

Antonya_NelsonFirst on the list–which I’ve actually started–is whatever I can find by Antonya Nelson. I was unaware of her until recently, when a friend invited me to audit a short fiction writing workshop she’s leading. The plan was just to look like I’d been reading her all along so I could appropriately kiss up, but I’m enjoying her stories immensely so far.


I also want to read a lot of Roddy Doyle, who I discovered on The New Yorker Fiction Podcast recently. I’ve read his first novel, The Commitments, but want to read more of his stories as well. I just started a recent novel of his, The Guts, trying to read it alongside other things (like Nelson), which I’m horrible at doing.

Joseph Mitchell is very much on the list. I’ve read some of his book My Ears Are Bent which is a collection of his pre-New Yorker journalism, and I just ordered, Up in the Old Hotel, a collection of his journalism for The New Yorker. There’s also a new biography out that is on my wish list for Father’s Day. As a journalist I’d love to (pretentious as it sounds) explore Flint the way he explored New York. I’ll probably re-read Joe Gould’s Secret just because, well, if you’ve ever read it, you’ll know.

I recently met K.M. Zhart, a Flint guy who started the literary journal Old Northwest Review, and I’ve been meaning to read his novel Old Man Outlaw. I’m also planning on reading UM-Flint lecturer Andrew Morton’s award-winning play, Bloom, which I regrettably didn’t see when it was being performed in town.

What do I hope my students read? Everything.


As for last year’s reading list, who knows? You should have seen my general 2015 reading list, which was ambitious enough to include among other things, everything by David Foster Wallace. That’s a mountain I’ll be climbing for a while.

Steve Bernstein
My reading plans are only slowly coming into focus, but so far I want to finish a book of literary theory, Caroline Levine’s Forms, and then move onto Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence (which my wife has encouraged me to read for many summers).  I’m also hoping to squeeze in volume 1 of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle so I’ll know what all the buzz is about.

My goal last summer was to complete my two-summer project of reading Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time.  I did it!  Proust is amazing, and really: just read him.


But my recommendations this summer are these: anything by Norman Rush and/or Alice Munro, two of the best contemporary writers around.  For Rush, especially Mating, and for Munro, especially Runaway.Runaway






The Return of Summer Reading – a Who Are These People, Anyway? Exclusive

24 Apr

summer readingLast year around this time Who Are These People, Anyway? focused on summer reading: ours and (we hoped) yours. The results are here. Deciding that nothing succeeds like success, this year we’re doing the same. Read on for English faculty choices – what we want to read this year and what we want you to read. Those who played last year also report on how things went.

Stephanie Roach
This summer I am determined to read S.  by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst.  Most of the reviews have sounded a lot like this one from The Miami Herald: “Both as literature and as a physical object, S. is a profound and tremendous work of art.”  That’s hard for me to resist.  Plus, it’s J.J. Abrams (Fringe, Lost, Alias, and Super 8  fans know what I’m talking about).   

 The book I would encourage students to read over the summer is anything by the Irish novelist Tana French.  I was a sucker for the characters in her debut novel In the Woods, though I think she’s gotten better with each book (The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor).  Booklist said this of her debut, “In the Woods is a superior novel about cops, murder, memory, relationships, and modern Ireland”—and that’s pretty much been true of every book after.  She has a new one coming out in September (The Secret Place), but the real reason to start reading is to able to watch and appreciate how scholars are already starting to stitch her into  the fabric of literary history. Here is just one recent collection where her work is studied.

Last summer I did, in fact, read The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde.  I felt very much like this reviewer from Shelf Awareness: “Jasper Fforde fans, rejoice! The Woman Who Died a Lot, the seventh installment in his Thursday Next series, delivers all the imagination, complexity and laughs we’ve come to expect from Fforde and his book-hopping, butt-kicking heroine. The Woman Who Died a Lot brings together the charming lunacy and intricate plotting that have enthralled Fforde’s readers over the years.” This series is a real treat for people who like books.

As I recommended last summer, start with The Eyre Affair.

Cathy Akers-Jordan
Last summer I re-read The Lord of the Rings. As always, I found quite a few subtle nuances I missed during my many previous readings. I strongly recommend this book for students as an example of timeless and many-layered literature. I especially recommend it to those who have only seen the films.

mystery rubricI plan to work on my mystery novel this summer, so I’m reading several books on writing in general and writing mysteries in particular. A few are Writer’s Block is Bunk by Lev Raphael, Great Fiction: Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell, and Gotham Writers Workshop: Writing Fiction by Michael Brooks.

James Schirmer
A book I’m determined to read this summer: Kelly Pender’s Techne, From Neoclassicism to Postmodernism: Understanding Writing As a Useful, Teachable Art. Significant portions of my dissertation focused on this old Greek word and I’m very interested in Pender’s book-length perspective. I suspect hers will be much deeper and more thoughtful than my own. I hope to learn much from this book.

A book students should read this summer: Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online. Rheingold addresses how and why we might use digital media toward a public good, looking at attention, participation, collaboration, and what he calls “crap detection.” An important book in our important time.

Result of last summer’s goal: A better, broader understanding of writing’s relationship with commerce.

Kazuko Hiramatsu
To read: The F Word by Jesse Sheidlower. I’m thinking of developing a course on the language of swearing.swearing

Recommended: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. The photographs that are central to the story are eerie and lovely.
Last year’s goal: An Anatomy of Type by Stephen Coles. I flipped through the guide to 100 typefaces but only studied some of the typefaces in detail.

Tom Foster

My summer reading aspiration is Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. She is ridiculously young (will turn thirty in December) and has lived all over the place–Nigeria, where she was born, London, Oxford, Toronto, Prague, Berlin. This novel, published in 2011, is her fourth. Her first was written while she was studying for her A-levels (still in high school, in other words), published her first year at Oxford.
helen oyeyemiThe novel is a clever take on the Bluebeard story, this time with a writer who kills off all his heroines in grisly fashions until being accosted by his muse. In other words, it has everything I like to see in a novel: humor and wit, intertextuality, reworked fairy tales, life and death issues, terrific prose, and considerations of artistic morality (if any). I’m also interested in her fifth, Boy. Snow. Bird., a version of the Snow White story that came out earlier this year.

Last year’s model, Colum McCann’s Transatlantic, was interesting. It’s not his best novel, but even his not-best is pretty darned good.

Scott Caddy
goldfinchA book I am determined to read this summer: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

A book my students should read this summer: Fire in the Ashes: Twenty Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol. Not only is it the 2014 Common Read, but the theme fits perfectly with many issues students and families face in the Flint area.

D. J. Trela
As the new and old kid on the English block, but most definitely the one who’s done the least amount of teaching in walter-isaacson-steve-jobs1the Department in the past fifteen years, my summer reading will focus significantly on works I’ll be using or referring to in my fall course ENG 359: Biography as Literature. High on my list are Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Brontë, and Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Though too long for a single course, selections from Robert Caro’s life of a very different Johnson–Lyndon–are also on my list.

A book less work-related that intrigues me, based on its New Yorker review, is Five Came Back: A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War, by Mark Harris. This is an account of five distinguished WWII era Hollywood directors, and the films and documentaries that they produced during and after the war. Their work is described as “the largest movie propaganda campaign the government had ever undertaken.”

Monika Ehrlich
1) The book I’m determined to read: Joseph Anton: A Memoir by Salman Rushdie. It’s been on my list since it came out – not only am I a huge fan of Rushdie’s writing, but the topic, his life in hiding after writing/publishing The Satanic Verses, I find fascinating.

James2) The book I think/wish my students would read this summer: The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. Simply (selfishly) it is in my top ten favorite books – more importantly, reading James (Portrait in particular) as a student at UM-Flint, is what made me want to become an English major.

3) The result of last year’s picks? I did, indeed, read The Girls of Atomic City. I have suggested/recommended (cajoled?) a number of students to read Everything is Illuminated – one reported back, “it was weird, but it was worth it – maybe I’ll read another book.” – so I will take that as a success!!!

Mary Jo Kietzman
Bible: Prophetic Books, Gospels of Luke and Matthew, Epistles of St. Paulmiddlemarch
Shakespeare: Henry VIII or All is True, Cymbeline
Marin Buber: Tales of the Hasidim, Early & Late Masters
George Eliot: Middlemarch

More important than a reading list, I believe in summer writing projects. Mine is to write a readable book on Shakespeare’s use of biblical story to apply the concept of covenant to his world. I would urge all of my students to create a writing project and read what they need to know to develop it. Otherwise, I’d recommend anything by Flannery O’Connor or one of the great Russian writers: Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, or Chekhov.

Steve Bernstein
mproustLast year I vowed to read Swann’s Way, the first book of Marcel Proust’s seven-novel modernist epic In Search of Lost Time. I caught the Proust bug and plowed through 2000 pages (four novels) before Fall semester beckoned. This summer’s priority? The last 1500 pages (three novels) – I can’t wait! Proust’s work may well be the most fascinating rendering of consciousness and subjectivity that I’ve ever read.

"Instant Miamai" series 1984Farrar Straus Giroux 1987Cynthia KrupatFor students or, really, anyone, I recommend Padgett Powell’s strange and wonderful novel A Woman Named Drown (1987), recently back in print. This is a book that changed (for the better) how I see the world (I know that’s cryptic, but come talk to me when you’ve read it), and bears multiple rereadings (did I mention that it’s only 180 pages?). It’s very funny too. Powell is a little-known American treasure – don’t miss him!

Who Are These People, Anyway?® curls up with a good book . . . and thinks that you should too.

19 Apr

Their_First_Quarrel,_Gibson2012-13 got too busy for us all to find the time to check in with you.  But here we are, a few days before “summer” comes to UM-Flint!  For this go-round, we asked ourselves what we were most determined to read this summer, and then each suggested a must-read title for you.  Below you’ll find evidence that English teachers really do like books, along with an  essential reading list for the beach.  See you next year!

Cathy Akers-Jordan
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.  Sure, the movies were great; the book is even better. The surface story is a good saga, but the deeper meanings (hope in the face of despair, sacrifice, friendship, environmentalism, and the value and price of freedom) make this book a timeless classic.  I’m reading Tolkien again because I’m working on two papers for publication. No matter how many times I read it, I always find new things I want to research and write about. Now THAT is a mark of good literature!eye-of-sauron_0

For students: The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson, which tells the story of the two men (a physician and a minister) who tracked the 1854 Cholera outbreak in London to its source: one well in Soho. It reads like a murder mystery but is a great illustration of how society influences the way we think, the use of the scientific method, the evolution of cities, and how all these things still influence us today.

Jacob Blumner
I’m determined to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain because I’m interested in the intersection where introverts and extroverts meet, work, and live.

I would love my students to read Slowness by Milan Kundera.  Though not necessarily his best book, I think it is increasingly prescient for our time and it is an enjoyable read.

Stephanie Roach
I’m determined to read: The Woman Who Died A Lot: A Thursday Next Novel by Jasper Fforde.  I’ll leave it to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to describe why: “In Misery, Stephen King compares the euphoric feeling writers experience in creative bursts to ‘falling into a hole filled with bright light.’ Avid readers also know that feeling: A good story temporarily erases the world. British novelist Jasper Fforde has expanded on King’s simile in a wonderful seven-book series of novels featuring Thursday Next. Enormously knowledgeable about literary history, Fforde scatters nuggets for nerdy readers like me. By the end, all of Fforde’s myriad particles of plot, accelerated by his immense skill and narrative sense, collide, producing pyrotechnics and a passel of new particles to propel his next tale. I love the Thursday Next books, and when a new one appears, I don’t fall but leap into this bibliophile’s Wonderland.”


The book I’d love students to read this summer: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde.  Because this is how I fell in love with Jasper Fforde, his love of language, his ability to tell a good story and turn even the silly into something smart.  Because reading and writing are, at heart, fun.

Monika Ehrlich
The book I’m determined to read this summer is The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. The book details the development of a whole community of women (as in, there was an empty area in Tennessee where they created a “city”) during WWII to w200px-EverythingIsIlluminatedork on the bomb…but they didn’t know that was what they were doing. I simply am intrigued by the topic and am trying to read more non-fiction.

The book I’d love my students to read this summer is Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer is a superb writer – his use of humor (especially his humor), history, experimentation with structure and language and development of character would (I think!) grab some students who don’t find reading fiction enjoyable.

Mary Jo Kietzman
A 9-way tie! Janet Adelman, Blood Relations:  Christian and Jew in The Merchant of Venice; Henry David Thoreau, Walden; Stanley Cavell, The Senses of Walden; Charles Dickens, David Copperfield; William Blake, Milton; and in the Bible: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings.435px-Henry_David_Thoreau_1862

For students:  Shakespeare, King Lear … so they are ready for the English department production!

Vickie Larsen
This summer I am reading: On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche, because I am thinking about modernity as an epistemology thaNietzschet developed, in part, as a reaction against medieval assumptions about knowledge and metaphysics.

For students: Not Nietzsche, but J. M. Coetzee’s 2013 novel, The Childhood of Jesus because Coetzee is incredible and this book looks really disruptive

Steve Bernstein
Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust, translated by Lydia Davis.  For a long time I’ve wanted to read Proust’s modernist masterpiece, In Search of Lost Time, in its entirety.  I read Swann’s Way years ago but never moved on to the other six books.  I’ve heard such good things about the newish Penguin translation (starting with Lydia Davis’s volume) that I’m trying again.


Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.  When I ask students, even M.A. students, if they’ve read this great novel, almost no one says yes.  It’s pivotal!  It’s wonderful!  It’s time to read the book that mixes a plot concerning the poor fit between romantic daydreams and middle-class life with one of the most dazzling displays of narrative technique ever laid down anywhere.  (Lydia Davis, a fabulous writer herself, has translated this one too.)

James Schirmer
One book I’m determined to reaWhyted: How Writing Came About, by Denise Schmandt-Besserat, because of my increasing interest in the history of writing alongside an already persistent interest in what we gain/lose in the move from handwriting to typing and texting.

One book I’d love for students to read: Crimes Against Logic, by Jamie Whyte, because of the importance of understanding, dissecting, and taking down dishonest and illogical arguments made by those in positions of power.

Kazuko Hiramatsu
I’ve always been curious about why I react negatively to certain fonts. A New York Times article on fonts led me to Simon Garfield’s Just My Type last summer. This summer, I’m planning to read Stephen Coles’ The Anatomy of Type.

It’s not a book but I hope students will read the posts on Language Log. It’s a great blog by multiple linguists who comment daily on language-related issues.

Tom Foster
My planned reading this summer: Transatlantic by Colum McCann, due out in June. The book mixes history and fiction in following three crossings from the U.S. to Ireland over 150 years, from Frederick Douglass to Senator George Mitchell, and promises to be very interesting. McCann, in addition to crafting exquisite narratives, is one of the premier stylists writing in English today. McCann was born in Ireland and is now a citizen of this country, and his grounding in — and fascination with — both cultures shows through in his writing.let-the-great-world-spin-book-cover

Continuing the theme, I would recommend to students McCann’s earlier Let the Great World Spin, which was a highly deserving winner of the National Book Award for 2009. He calls it his “9/11 novel” despite the fact that the events of 9/11 never appear. The lives of a disparate group of people—bereaved mothers of soldiers killed in Vietnam, a mother and daughter pair of prostitutes, artistic poseurs, a ruined Irish monk and his brother—are tied together by the events of the August day in 1974 when Phillipe Petit walked a wire between the Twin Towers. I read the evocative opening of Petit making his stroll in thin air, was instantly hooked, and never got unhooked. It is an amazing performance.

John Pendell
A book I’m determined to read this summer:  Ian McEwan, Atonement.  I’ll be spending some time in Britain this summer, and I like to read British authors while I’m there, particularly contemporary “greats.”

A book that students should read this summer: Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov.  You might as well take the summer to ponder some big, and possibly disturbing, ideas.  And if you’re going to do that, go really big.


Kickin’ It with Who Are These People, Anyway?

17 Apr

In these posts you’ve learned that English Department faculty listen to music, see movies, and even watch tv.  Beyond those things, though, how do we like to spend our time?  We thought you’d never ask!  Just read below to find out the unbelievable truth.  All things must pass, and with this post WATPA? says farewell until the fall.  Thanks for looking, and have a great summer!

Fred Svoboda:  Hiking, Cycling, Dog Training (Golden Retriever), Travel, Reading.

Janelle Wiess:  Besides reading, I also enjoy running (I do compete, but I have no interest in running a marathon), yoga,  and playing the organ/piano.  I used to scrapbook, but now I just make photo books on Shutterfly.

Stephanie Roach:  Going to the movies and live theatre performances; Reading books (particularly debut novels, preferably ocean-side)

Cathy Akers-Jordan:  1. Counted cross-stitch.  2. Puzzles (Sudoku, crosswords, jigsaw puzzles, puzzle-based computer games, etc.).  3. Research about Titanic, The Lord of the Rings, and Egyptology.  4. Writing about stuff I read (Seriously, I spend most of my time reading!).  5. Watching Eagle Cam


Brian Boggs:  My hobby time is limited, but I would say that it is politics. Not only do I hold a position in the community in which I reside (which has me going to meeting and events regularly), but I also like to follow local, state, and national politics. It is a hobby and community service.

Stephanie Irwin-Booms:  We like to make beer, wine, and mead at home. We play a lot of board games on the weekend; Dominion, Ticket to Ride, Lost Cities, and Taj Mahal are a few many people have never heard of.  Gaming has come a long way since Monopoly and Sorry.  If have time or energy, I read or play video games but these days, not much of either one.

John Pendell:  Running.

Jacob Blumner:  Beyond Reading and grading: Ha ha ha. In no particular order, biking, hiking, woodwork, sewing, scuba diving, fishing, camping, running around the yard playing various forms of tag, really just about anything considered “outdoors.”



Kazuko Hiramatsu:  knitting scarves; needle felting; baking; playing video games, the ukulele, and piano.

Steve Bernstein: music (listening to it, playing it, seeing it live), travel, cooking, running, reading.

Who Are These People, Anyway? visits the “vast wasteland”!

19 Mar

Remember us?  We’re English Department faculty, and we can’t resist telling you more about ourselves, especially in mildly embarrassing ways.  This time around, respondents were asked to identify their favorite tv programming of yesteryear, along with what kind of trash they might be caught watching during an idle moment now.  Do English teachers watch tv while they grade?  We’ll never tell . . .

Tom Foster
The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show—explains a lot, doesn’t it? Hey, Rock, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! My go-to when students don’t understand postmodernism.
Columbo—the first incarnation. It broke the rules for detective/mystery shows.
The Nero Wolfe Mysteries—Timothy Hutton with an ensemble cast playing different suspects and victims every week, a sort of whodunit repertory company.
Kung Fu—again, the original run. Faux-Eastern mysticism, Western tropes, slo-mo violence. I could cite Then Came Bronson as an alternative mysterious-stranger series, but that may be weirder.
The Prisoner. Patrick McGoohan. Dystopian weirdness. Just because.

White Collar
Covert Affairs
—the only show ever in which I knew the star as a toddler
Royal PainsMonk with a stethoscope. Hey, I like some of the USA short series
This Old House—weak scripts but good action, esp. with nail guns

Fred Svoboda
An Age of Kings (1960). Shakespeare history plays in chronological order covering 86 years, Richard II to Richard III.
Get Smart (1965-70). Comic parody of James Bond.
Mary Tyler Moore (1970-77). Young, single woman in a TV producer job faces the humor of women’s move into the work force.
Bob Newhart Show (1972-78). Misadventures of dull Chicago psychologist and his droll, beautiful elementary teacher wife.
Hill Street Blues (1981-87). Prototype of current character-driven ensemble cop shows.
Project Runway People doing fashion design, something really, really difficult. This can be fascinating.
Mythbusters Guys blowing up things, mostly, in the cause of science. What could be better?
American Experience PBS documentaries on topics relevant to the American Literature student.
NOVA  Great PBS science series. “Things eating things.”
Downton Abbey BBC production of life in an English manor house just before, during and after WWI. Soap opera for the literate.

Stephanie Carpenter
When it comes to TV, I follow the advice of Paris Hilton: “Eat only fast food or the most fabulous food.”
All-time favorite shows: The Wire, Friday Night Lights, Deadwood, Twin Peaks

Things I watch now: Justified, The Bachelor/etteJersey Shore, Mad Men, Downton Abbey

Steve Bernstein
All time: The Wire, Seinfeld, Veronica Mars, Da Vinci’s Inquest, The Dick Van Dyke Show
Now: The Daily Show, Modern Family, Mad Men, Chopped, Damages

Janelle Wiess
In terms of all time favorite shows, I have always enjoyed MASH and Seinfeld. It doesn’t matter if I have already seen the episode. I will watch it again.
Several shows that I watch regularly are The Mentalist, Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, and Storage Wars. I don’t care for any other crime dramas (NCIS or Law and Order) because I can usually figure out “whodunnit” early on and the puns are just really bad.

Stephanie Roach
All-time  Presented alphabetically: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Sports Night, Soap, Veronica Mars
Now Presented alphabetically: Castle, Fringe, Glee, How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family

Cathy Akers-Jordan
All-time  1. Star Trek (The Original Series)  2. Lost 3. Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009) 4. Monk 5. MASH
Now  1. Castle 2. The Big Bang Theory 3. Mystery! (Sherlock and Inspector Lewis are my faves) 4. The Closer 5. Rizzoli and Isles

Jake Blumner
All-time: Simpsons and Family Guy and Daily Show and Lost.
Now?  Diego, Dora, Mike the Knight, Bones, and whatever Helen turns on.

Brian Boggs
All time TV favorites – Frasier, House, The Mentalist, Castle, and Will and Grace
– My time is limited to new episodes of the House, The Mentalist, and Castle – I have a thing for mysteries and puzzles.

John Pendell
All-time favorites: The Office (UK Version) , Taxi, St. Elsewhere, Law and Order, Six Feet Under
Currently watching:  Downton Abbey, Parenthood, Modern Family, The Mentalist, 30 Rock



Kazuko Hiramatsu
All-time MASH, Star Trek, Northern ExposureDoc Martin, Lost
Now Psych, White Collar, Castle, New Girl, The Voice

Stephanie Irwin-Booms
My favorite all time shows are Seinfeld, Six feet Under, Battlestar Galactica, and The Sopranos.
My favorite current shows are Once upon a time, True Blood, Dexter, Big Bang Theory, and American Pickers. I love anything science fiction but the older I get, the more time I spend on the History and Science channels.  I don’t watch very many shows that other women like.

2011 in Scholarship and Creative Work

3 Jan

2011 has been another productive year for the members of the UM-Flint English Department faculty and it’s an honor to salute this work and the people who created it:


Our hats are off to Tom for the publication of his sixth book in which he demonstrates his literate qualities and his ever-ready wit.

Foster, Thomas C. Twenty-five Books that Shaped America: How White Whales, Green Lights, and Restless Spirits Forged Our National Identity. New York: Harper Collins, 2011. Print or Kindle.







Knight, Suzanne D. “Using Narrative to Examine Positionality: Powerful Pedagogy in English Education.” English Teaching: Practice and  Critique 10 (2011): 49-64. Web.


Larsen, Vickie. “Julian of Norwich in the Fifteenth Century: The Material Record, Maternal Devotion, and London, Westminster Cathedral Treasury MS 4.” Journal of the Early Book Society for the Study of Manuscript and Printing History 14 (2011): 41-74. Print.






Halpern, Samuel, Cathy Akers-Jordan, George Behe, Bruce Beveridge, Mark Chirnside, Tad Fitch, Dave Gittins, Steve Hall, Lester J. Mitchan, Captain Charles Weeks, and Bill Wormstedt. Report into the Loss of the SS Titanic: A Centennial Reappraisal. London: The History Press, 2012. Print.

Look for Cathy’s contributions in chapter 8 (on third class passengers) and in Appendix J.




Knight, Suzanne D. “Locating and Loving the Personal: Risk and Vulnerability in a Secondary English Language Arts Methods Course.”    Disrupting Pedagogies and Teaching the Knowledge Society: Countering Conservative Norms with Creative Approaches. Ed. Julie Faulkner. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2012. 1-15. Print and e-book.





Svoboda, Frederic. Rev. of  Picturing Hemingway’s Michigan by Michael Federspiel. Michigan Historical Review 37.1 (2011): 149-50. Print.






Roach, Stephanie. “Thoughts on Starting a Different Conversation with Students About Maintaining Academic Integrity.” WPA 2010 Conference Proceedings. Ed. Charles Lowe and Terra Williams. A Publication of The Council of Writing Program Administrators, 2011. Web.


Bernstein, Stephen. “Alasdair Gray” and “James Kelman.”  The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction. Ed. Brian Shaffer.  London: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. Print.






Short Shorts

Carpenter, Stephanie. “Lost Boy Not Found.” LITnIMAGE 14 (2011). n.p. Web.



Carpenter, Stephanie. “Midwest Idolater.” Midwestern Gothic 3 (2011): 83. Print.







Conference Papers

Roach, Stephanie. “What If We Don’t Even Mention Plagiarism: How the ‘Framework for Success in Postsecondary Writing’ Establishes the Value of Integrity.” Thinking Globally, Acting Locally: Revisiting and Reviving the Fundamental Values of Integrity. The International Center for Academic Integrity Annual Conference. Toronto, October 2011.

Svoboda, Frederic. “The Things Nick Adams Carried to the Big Two-Hearted River.” Michigan Hemingway Society, October 14, 2011.

Invited Lectures

Svoboda, Frederic. “Michigan, Hemingway and The Nick Adams Stories.” Camp Michigania, UM Alumni Society Fall Colors Series, Petoskey, MI. October 7, 2011.

Svoboda, Frederic. “On the Road with Hemingway Scholars: Literary Study in Swamps, Houses and Archives,” Camp Michigania, UM Alumni Society Fall Colors Series, Petoskey, MI. October 8, 2011.

Conference Panels

Carpenter, Stephanie (Panel organizer and presider). ” Vehicle City Writers.”  Writing the Midwest: The Cultural Heritage of the Midwest, a Symposium. The Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature Annual Conference. Michigan State University. May 2011.

Elected Positions

Vickie Larsen, Treasurer and Membership Coordinator, Society for Medieval Feminist Scholarship


Who Are These People, Anyway? Goes to the Movies!

12 Nov

Welcome back!  We were offline for a little while trying to remember our 5 all-time favorite movies (All-time) and 5 that we’ve liked pretty well from the last decade (2001).  Get busy catching up, and don’t miss the next madcap edition of WATPA?

Suzanne Knight:
All-time: The Godfather, Jaws, The Shawshank Redemption, A Few Good Men, Dirty Dancing
2001: The King’s Speech, Death at a Funeral (the 2007 Frank Oz iteration), Finding Nemo, Little Miss Sunshine, The Lord of the Rings (all three)

James Schirmer:
All-time: 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, Glengarry Glen Ross, The Limey, The Big Lebowski
2001: No Country for Old Men, District 9, Mulholland Drive, Children of Men, The Proposition

Steve Bernstein:
  The Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, Chinatown, Vertigo, Blue Velvet
2001: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, 24 Hour Party People, The Illusionist (2006), Spirited Away, The Tree of Life


Jim Anderson:
  1. Casablanca, 2. Annie Hall, 3. The Maltese Falcon, 4. The Searchers, 5. Chinatown
2001: I have been to five movies since 2001, maybe just, but none struck me as great.

Kazuko Hiramatsu:
The Princess Bride, Charade, My Neighbor Totoro, Rajio no jikan (Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald), Galaxy Quest
2001: Love Actually, Gosford Park, How to Train your Dragon, Star Trek, Catch Me If You Can








Scott Russell:
Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Lawrence of Arabia, Rear Window, Tootsie, Citizen Cane
2001: Inception, Frost/Nixon, Lord of the Rings trilogy, Anger Management, Capote

Suchitra Rathnam:
  1) March of the Penguins, 2) Shrek-all parts, 3) A Beautiful Mind, 4) The Next Three Days, 5) Throw Momma from the Train
2001:  1) Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey Jr. & Jude Law), 2) Pirates of the Caribbean, 3) Blind Side, 4) A Beautiful Mind, 5) As Good As it Gets

Brian Boggs:
  Star Wars (three old ones and the last new one, episode III), Back to the Future,  The Thin Man (series), Sabrina (old and new versions both), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
2001:  Doubt, Sherlock Holmes, Superman, The Dukes of Hazzard, Avatar

Scott Caddy:
(in no particular order): High Fidelity, Apocalypse Now, Braveheart, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
2001 (again, no particular order): Garden State, La Vie en Rose, Big Fish, Team America: World Police, Napoleon Dynamite

Cathy Akers-Jordan:
1. Just about anything with John Wayne, 2. Indiana Jones 1 and 3,  3. Star Trek 2 and 4, 4. The Lord of the Rings series, 5. The original Star Wars series (4, 5, & 6) before George Lucas started editing each DVD release
2001:  1. Captain America, 2. The Lord of the Rings series, 3. The Harry Potter series, 4. Just about any animated film by Disney/Pixar, 5. Julie and Julia

John Pendell:
  Being John Malkovich,  Sling Blade, The Godfather, pt. 2, The Deer Hunter, Fight Club
Volver, Lost in Translation, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Triplets of Belleville, Million Dollar Baby

Stephanie Roach:
The Goodbye Girl, The Princess Bride, Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally, The Wiz
2001: Big Fish, (500) Days of Summer, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Social Network, Toy Story 3


Fred Svoboda:
All-time:  “The Gold Rush” (1925). Charlie Chaplin as a prospector looking for gold and love in the frozen North.
“IT” (1927). Clara Bow in a silent movie comedy that is the prototype for the later “Pretty Woman” starring Julia Roberts.
“The Grapes of Wrath” (1940). John Ford directs Henry Fonda in what was generally considered the greatest American film of its time.
“The Graduate” (1967) made Dustin Hoffman a star in the original “cougar” film.
“Do the Right Thing” (1989). Great ensemble piece addressing American racism is also a great viewing experience. It’s the hottest day of the year in Brooklyn!
2001:  “Lost in Translation” (2003):  Scarlet Johanssen and Bill Murray meet in Tokyo, try to figure out why they’re there and where they’re going next.
“A Very Long Engagement” (2004): Audrey Tautou in a touching French love story wrapped around a harrowing recreation of the trench warfare of the First World War.
“Death at a Funeral” (the 2007 British version): Hugely funny yet subtle comedy of a family whose members don’t know as much about each other as they thought. (The 2010 Chris Rock version is also funny, but not spot-on like the original.)
“Up” (2009): You can’t get a more literally and figuratively uplifting film experience. “Up” is about finding the adventure in any life.
“Up in the Air” (2009): George Clooney fires up to 30 people a day in a stinging parody of corporate outsourcing. This film is a mainstream movie with bite.

Monika Ehrlich:
  1. Annie Hall, 2. Life is Beautiful, 3. American Beauty,  4. The Shawshank Redemption, 5. Reservoir Dogs
2001: 1. The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2. Sideways, 3. The Last King of Scotland, 4. The Royal Tenenbaums, 5. Everything is Illuminated

Matt Kanefsky:
Star Wars; Au revoir, les enfants; History of the World, Part I; On the Waterfront; The Princess Bride
2001: Night at the Museum 2, Gran Torino, Sin Nombre, Ondine, Lost in Translation

Who Are These People, Anyway?

21 Oct

As strange as it is to consider, English teachers do more than just grade papers, read books, and grade papers.  It turns out that we listen to music too.  There’s still more, so this is only the first in a series of occasional posts that will tell you a little about just who we think we are.

For this edition, faculty were asked to provide lists of artists in a “Personal Hall of Fame” (HOF) and of who they’ve been listening to lately (Now).  The results follow, in no particular order.  What do Garth Brooks, Nicki Minaj, Erroll Garner, and Rush have in common?  You won’t find them below.  You will find lots of variety, however, and maybe some surprising, amusing, or even depressing choices.  Follow the links for still more fun (for 1,000 points, can you find the bad one?).  Comments are welcome (at least we think so, but watch that punctuation)!

Cathy Akers-Jordan
: Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Seger, Johnny Cash
Now: Howard Shore, James Horner, John Williams (I like to listen to movie soundtracks while I grade)

Catherine O’Connor
Frank Sinatra and Aretha Franklin
Now: Presently listening to Frank Sinatra and Otis Redding.  Also, very much liking Adam Lambert

Kazuko Hiramatsu
  Aaron Copland
Now: Michael Bublé Pandora channel

Steve Bernstein
Maurice Ravel, Elvis Costello, Thelonious Monk, Prince, Chris Isaak, Beck, Pavement, Pixies
Now: The Shins, Radiohead, Lower Dens, Transglobal Underground, Aimee Mann

Brian Boggs
filled with the classics, opera, and jazz. Some of my all time favorite composers would be Mozart (especially his Requiem and the opera Don Giovanni), Vivaldi (often called the Red Priest because he was a Catholic priest and had red hair), operas by Verdi (including Don Carlos), George Gershwin (especially An American in Paris and Rhapsody in Blue), and Bix Beiderbecke.
Now:  I am currently listening to various renditions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake because I have tickets to go see both of them this year. In addition, my dial is almost always set to 90.5 FM, which is WKAR – MSU’s classics station and an NPR affiliate. They play a variety of classic music, including jazz on the weekends, and live broadcasts of New York’s Metropolitan Opera on Saturday afternoons.

Scott Russell
Tom Waits, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Paul Simon, Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Dave Matthews
Now:  Wall Flowers, Jonny Lang, Death Cab for Cutie, Audioslave

Tom Foster
  Oscar Peterson, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, anybody named Allman, Hank Williams, Miles Davis, Nanci Griffith, Keith Emerson, Keith Jarrett, Leo Kottke, Joni Mitchell, Patsy Cline, The Band, Jerry Garcia, and the principal Bach, and Mozart
Now: The Lash, Slide, Rootstand (with our own Brant Losinski), Solas, and (nostalgically) The Junkers

Stephanie Irwin-Booms
Queen, Bob Marley, and Metallica
Now: Adele

Erica Britt
Terence Trent D’arby, Baden Powell, Anita Baker, Sade, New Edition
Now: Kem, Talib Kweli, Jill Scott, Tiger JK, Colin Hay, GD & TOP

Stephanie Roach
Counting Crows, Ani Difranco, Barenaked Ladies
Now:  The National, Frightened Rabbit

Julie Colish
Johnny Mathis, Neil Diamond, music from plays and piano

Monika Ehrlich
Bruce Springsteen, U2, The Beautiful South/The Housemartins, Eric Clapton, Norah Jones, The Clash, Elvis Costello, Blues Traveler, The Pretenders, The Rolling Stones
Now: The Avett Brothers, Adele, Florence and the Machine, Ray LaMontagne, Old Crow Medicine Show, Brandi Carlile, Chris Isaak, Mark Knopfler & Emmylou Harris, Lily Allen

Suzanne Knight
Queen, Styx, Elton John, Carole King, Patsy Cline
Now: Adele, Lady Antebellum

James Schirmer
Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix, and Tom Waits
Now:  Battles, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, and We Were Promised Jetpacks 

Jacob Blumner
Motown, Nirvana, Rolling Stones, Miles Davis, Beastie Boys, The Ramones, Al Green, Johnny Cash, The Clash, Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo, Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise
Now: Whatever my kids want (Soul Coughing, Beastie Boys, anyone singing Hallelujah written by Leonard Cohen, Jack Johnson, What a Wonderful World/Somewhere Over the Rainbow mashup (preferably by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole))

Scott Caddy
-Bob Dylan: the quintessential songwriter and lyricist of the 20th century. His ability to tell a story and offer biting critique at the same time is rare. He might be one of, if not the most influential artists of all time too.
-Elvis Costello: As far as I’m concerned, Costello and Dylan are the two absolute best songwriters and lyricists of the 20th century. Costello gets lots of love from me for being very tongue-in-cheek.
Bruce Springsteen: You have to love The Boss, if only for his ability to turn the mundane experiences of life into epic, emotional, and engrossing songs full of life, struggle, and the desire for something greater.
-Jeff Buckley: His ability to move an audience with just his voice was something that most singers wished they could do. Buckley not only did it, he did it with what seemed like little or no effort.
-The Beatles: Quite possibly the best group to ever make music. Favorite album by the Beatles – Revolver
Now:  Counting Crows, Jimmy Eat World, David Gray,  Foo Fighters, Amos Lee

Vickie Larsen
  Coldplay, Nora Jones, Eminem, Rod Stewart, Cowboy Junkies
Now:  Feist