Best Books to Read According to ESU English Professors

Michael Chintalan

A&E Editor

Dr. Allan Benn

“My #1 is “The Scarlet Letter,” by Hawthorne. It is the most carefully crafted, thematically packed book that I know of. It responds, almost supernaturally, to contemporary perspectives, such as feminist, epistemological, and new historical. It finds ways to make the experiences of 17th century American Puritans comment on life in the 21st century. But it’s not just brainy; beneath it all, it warns of the hazard of ignoring our feelings. It’s a love story.”

Prof. Jeffrey Hotz

“One book I deeply appreciate and recommend is A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy (2008) by William B. Irvine, a philosophy professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. Irvine examines the major ideas and leading figures within the ancient Greek and Roman schools of stoicism. Stoicism is one of the world’s wisdom traditions, with instructions and guidance that a person can apply and test in his or her own life. I’ve read this book, and listened to the audiobook, many times.”

Prof. Leigh Smith

“My favorite book that I read purely for pleasure is “The Brothers Karamazov” (Fyodor Dostoevsky). It is a close dissection of the human personality, complete with contradictions, ridiculousness, and hypocrisy. The three legitimate Karamazov brothers each represent a different passion. Dimitry is ruled by love, Ivan is ruled by intellect, and Alyosha is ruled by religious fervor. The brothers are certainly the driving forces that competed for the soul of Russia. But they are also the forces that compete for the soul of every human being as well as the forces that drive us to embrace our own misery. Like all great literature, “The Brothers Karamazov” is about the inability of human beings to let ourselves be happy. As such, it is as completely realized a work of art as can be imagined.”

Prof. Richard Madigan

“Like most avid readers, I probably have a hundred (or more) favorite books. I’ll just mention one that I’ve been reading lately: “THE POEMS OF EMILY DICKINSON,” in the reading edition edited by R. W. Franklin. I wanted to read all of her poems, all @1785 of them. So I have been working my way through the Franklin edition, and have just passed the 1000 mark. I love Dickinson’s work for a lot of reasons. First of all, she was one of the two great American poets of the 19th century (Whitman being the other), and a full-blown original poetic genius. I love her work because like that of Shakespeare or Whitman, it covers the full spectrum of human experience. She writes about all the biggest questions—does God exist? is there an afterlife? do human lives and human suffering have meaning?—but also writes about the flowers and bees and birds in her garden. She can be very playful–she has one poem that is spoken in the voice of a fly who is writing a letter to his pal, the bee.”

Prof. Jan Selving

“My favorite book [I read] over the summer, which I’m still reading because it’s such a tome is the translation of the “Odyssey” by Emily Wilson and it’s the only translation written by a women. It’s very very cool and I love it.”

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