Book Recommendations by Iulia Sprinceana

October 6, 2015

sprinceana pic

Book Recommendations by Iulia Sprinceana
Favorite book in college:

José Saramago, “Blindness” –> what would you do if you suddenly went blind? What if the whole city went blind as if stricken by an epidemic? A fascinating story unfolding the fragile balance between humanity and barbarity that modern man must negotiate.

Favorite discipline-related book:

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, “Don Quixote” –> the first modern novel, a must read for all ages alike, following the adventures of the most celebrated Spanish “Don”. Decide for yourself if the adjective “quixotic”, derived from the protagonist’s name, is a proper attribute for our hero and his endeavors. After all, don’t we all search for what he is?

Book recommendation for students:

Gabriel García Márquez, “One Hundred Years of Solitude” -> a multi-generational portrait of love, hatred, loyalty and treason, set in the “magical” Colombian setting of fictional Macondo, which won its author the Nobel prize. Let yourself be carried away by its wonderful descriptions of inter-cultural encounters, family customs, and a host of extraordinary events. Ultimately a metaphor for Latin American history, the novel shows how history can be repetitive and hurtful when the human agent fails to comprehend the legacy of his ancestors.

Fyodor Dostoyevski, “The Brothers Karamazov” -> a literary masterpiece; a grappling mix of drama and humor, the story of three brothers and at the same time the political and religious panorama of the Russian empire at the end of the 19th century; a rich philosophical debate encompassing faith, doubt, free will, reason etc. and the all-time conflict between tradition and modernity. It will captivate you like no other book you’ve ever read.

Stendhal, “The Red and the Black” -> young, charming, ambitious, Julien Sorel has it all to succeed. But (how) will he resist the crude social atmosphere of Paris, ruled by hypocrisy and greed? A celebrated fictional character, Julien reflects the state of the French society after Napoleon’s final defeat at Waterloo, and thus links the social with the individual.

Albert Camus, “The Stranger” -> Why does someone kill another man? What is the connection between not crying at his mother’s funeral and the (trial for) murder? Camus delves into the apathy and dehumanization of man.

Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot” -> since my encounter with Godot in college, I have been an avid reader of all his plays. Deemed a writer of the “theater of the absurd” – in short, drama lacking a plot and using nonsense and wordplay in its dialogue – Godot tackles here a critical aspect for humanity: waiting. Whether waiting for someone, to board the plane, to receive news or a package from home, or simply to learn your final grades, waiting is a foible, inflicted upon us by “modern gods” who test our resistance to a world without apparent meaning.

Theodore Dreiser, “An American Tragedy” -> – Like Stendhal’s Julien Sorel, young Clyde Griffiths aspires to a better life. The novel traces his rise and tragic fall, brought on by the mere desire to succeed. Where does the pursuit for status and power end? An intense narrative rich in description and vivid detail, that will also show you the socioeconomic panorama of early 20th century America.

Truman Capote, “In Cold Blood” -> a non-fiction novel tracing four Kansas murders in the mid-20th century, investigated by Capote for six years. Why did they kill and what effect did the murders generate in the community?

Umberto Eco, “The Name of the Rose” -> a historical murder mystery set in an Italian monastery in the 14th century, the novel superbly combines fiction, philosophy, biblical analysis, medieval studies and semiotics, Eco’s specialty. Can logical deduction solve the mystery of the murder?

Plautus, “Miles Gloriosus” (The Braggart Soldier) -> a classical Roman comedy depicting stock characters in a series of situations that test their ability to trick and conceal in order to find a solution.

One book you would have on a deserted island:

Alexandre Dumas, “The Count of Monte Cristo” -> a tale of injustice, revenge and retribution, featuring, of course, an island; yet, ultimately, a magnificent lesson of survival and adaptation in the harshest conditions.

Favorite authors:

Emile Zola, Honoré de Balzac, Charles Dickens, Emily Brontë, Federico García Lorca, Benito Pérez Galdós, Cervantes, Javier Marías, Jorge Luis Borges, Mario Vargas Llosa, Philip Roth, Graham Greene, Chuck Palahniuk, Fyodor Dostoyevski, A.P. Chekhov, Haruki Murakami

Last read:

Juan Gabriel Vázquez, “El ruido de las cosas al caer” (The Sound of Things Falling) -> inspired by the crash of American Airlines flight 965 in the mountains of Colombia in 1995, this is a story of loss and re-encounter, set during the turbulent 1990s in Bogotá, Colombia, and recreating many decades of history of the infamous drug cartels and drug contraband between Colombia and the United States.

Maria Semple, “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” -> Would you like to board on a cruise to Antarctica? I certainly would, after reading this novel. Unconventional in form (comprised of email exchanges, personal notes, memories, but also vivid dialogues), the book will take you from Seattle to Los Angeles and then to the coldest continent, seeking not only a missing person, but her life meaning.

Next read:

Ron Rash, “One Foot in Eden” -> I chose this murder mystery (one of my favorite genres) eager to immerse in the region of my new home.

Judy Blume, “In the Unlikely Event” -> The title, a phrase we all hear while on a plane, waiting for takeoff, caught my attention and I decided to purchase it.
David Harvey, “Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism” -> Faithful to my college double major (Economics/Spanish), I am eager to read this promising analysis of current economic and global market affairs by a leading anthropologist and scholar.

Book Recommendations by Daniel Arbino

February 11, 2014


Daniel Arbino,

Assistant Professor of




Daniel Arbino is an assistant professor of Spanish. He specializes in Caribbean literatures and Afro-Latin American cultures. He has previously published in Callaloo, Journal of Caribbean Literatures, Mester, Sargasso and most recently, Label Me Latina/o. Before coming to Centre, Daniel lived in Cincinnati, Albuquerque, Minneapolis, and Queretaro, Mexico. 

Favorite book in college:

The Beach by Alex Garland. They made it into a not-so-great movie, but as usually the case, the book is so much better. It is sort of like Lord of the Flies, but about travelers attempting to escape the constant demands of a capitalist society by forming a small, secluded beach community.


Favorite discipline-related book:

Vejigantes by Francisco Arriví. This is a Puerto Rican play about three generations of women living in the same household. The three of them struggle to deal with racial identity in Puerto Rico as a result of societal pressures to whiten. I find this work to be extremely powerful in promoting an Afro-Puerto Rican sense of identity.



 Book recommendation for students:

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. This book balances humor with the struggles of immigrating to the United States as a result of a dark period in Dominican history under Dictator Rafael Trujillo. Students will appreciate Diaz’s use of language as well as his ability to mix hip-hop references, sci-fi references, and Dominican history into the same sentence.



One book you would have on a deserted island:

That would be La invención de Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. The novel, ironically, is set on a deserted island, but that’s not why I chose it. It’s a short novel, but one I would love to read multiple times. It’s about a fugitive who escapes to an island and then upper-class tourists begin to arrive on the island. The further you get into the novel, the more you realize what a beautiful love story it is set amidst technological innovation and different realities.



 Favorite authors:

Jamaica Kincaid, Carmelo Rodriguez Torres, Junot Diaz, Edwidge Danticat, Juan Rulfo, Cola Debrot



Last read:

Bloedlijn Overzee (Overseas Bloodline) by Loekie Morales. This is a Dutch Caribbean writer from Curaçao. In the story, the protagonist, who currently lives in the Netherlands, goes in search of her family’s history and ends up in Venezuela. It’s ultimately about favoring a horizontal relationship between Curaçao and Venezuela over a colonial relationship between Curaçao and the Netherlands.



Next read:

They Came Before Columbus by Ivan van Sertima. This is an older, but still extremely relevant study on the African presence in the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans.

Faculty Book Recommendations by Brett Werner

January 7, 2014


Brett Werner

Assistant Professor

of Environmental Studies


Brett is a professor in the Environmental Studies program, teaching courses related to policy, campus sustainability, and the interdisciplinary courses in the new major. His research addresses rivers, wetlands, climate change, and food systems. In his spare time he enjoys hiking, paddling, reading, photography, and gardening, along with any intramural or pickup sports he can find to stay busy. Brett is not a fifth generation Kentuckian, nor does he know the first thing about horse racing. He loves rivers, trees, and most charismatic megafauna.

Favorite book in college:


Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.

The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse by Hermann Hesse, translated by Jack Zipes.



Models of God by Sallie McFague.

Myths, Models, and Paradigms by Ian Barbour.




 Favorite discipline-related book:

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by Just Kidding Rowling.

Encounters with the Archdruid by John McPhee.


Book recommendation for students:

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray.

Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

The Monkeywrench Gang by Edward Abbey.

The Aims of Education by Alred North Whitehead.

Endgame by Derrick Jensen.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.




One book you would have on a deserted island:

Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse.

Favorite authors:

Stephen Dunn, Janisse Ray, Silas House, Edward Abbey, John McPhee, Richard White, Robert Jordan, Barbara Kingsolver, Chuck Klosterman, Michael Pollan, Jonathan Safran Foer, Kathleen Dean Moore, George RR Martin, Sandra Steingraber, Scott Russell Sanders, Derrick Jensen.


Last read:

 The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food by Janisse Ray.



Next read:

Global Weirdness by Climate Central.


Check out These Books Recommended by Professor of Music, Barbara Hall

March 5, 2013



Barbara Hall is professor of music at Centre, where she has taught since 1980. She has held the Stodghill Professorship in Humanities since its inception in 2004 and is the former chair of the division of arts and humanities.

A veteran teacher, conductor, and performer, Hall directs Centre’s choral program, which includes student groups such as Centre Singers, Women’s Voices, and Centre Men. She teaches humanities, music history, theory, and conducting. Hall founded and directs the Danville Summer Singers and Sounding Joy, an auditioned women’s ensemble of 30-32 singers.

Hall is a member of the American Choral Directors Association, the National Collegiate Choral Organization, and the College Music Society. She is past governor of the Association of Teachers of Singing.

Hall earned a B.M. at the University of Michigan, an M.A. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a D.M. from Indiana University.



Favorite book in college:

Leonard Meyer:  Music, the Arts, and Ideas and Emotion and Meaning in Music

I took an undergraduate course in music aesthetics that completely changed my thinking about how music works intrinsically and in relation to other arts and society.  Who wouldn’t want to read chapters such as “Forgery and the Anthropology of Art” and “Value and Greatness in Music”?

Favorite discipline-related book:

Dean Robert Blocker:  The Robert Shaw Reader

I am among the last generations of singer/choral directors to be privileged to sing under conductor Robert Shaw.  He was a tyrant, a poet, a musical musician.  This book quotes liberally from the letters he sent to his choirs after every rehearsal and from interviews with people who sang under him.  It’s a book I dip into frequently and always come away with new ideas and strengthened resolve to get to the essence of music and song.


Book recommendation for students:

 Great biographies – of anyone in any discipline. Whether it’s of Cleopatra, Franklin Roosevelt, Stravinsky, Picasso, Sotomayor, a fine biography offers multiple rewards:  clear and elegant prose, intimate knowledge of another person, and a socio/cultural/historical slice of life.

One book you would have on a deserted island:


It has to be a CD:  Bach Mass in b minor (I can live without books but not without music!).  This work, more than any other I can think of (and many people agree from across ages and lands), brings together the intellectual, aesthetic and emotional world into sublime music.


Favorite authors:

Jane Austen

Shakespeare (really!)

For fun:  Donna Leon – great mysteries set in Venice


Last read:

Leonard Slatkin:  Conducting Business:  Unveiling the Mystery Behind the Maestro.  Though self-serving, the look into the practical side of conducting on the international stage is revealing of the joys and frustrations of being an orchestral conductor and also gives some entertaining backstage and behind-the-scene tidbits.  Very likely the only other person to want to read this one is Jaemi Loeb!


Next read:

Garry Wills:   Verdi’s Shakespeare:  Men of the Theater 

Reading during the school year comes down, almost always, to preparing for class!


Check out These Books Recommended by Professor of History, Steve Beaudoin

February 5, 2013

Steve Beaudoin joined the Centre College faculty in 1997 as a visiting assistant professor of history and he currently serves as Ewing T. Boles Professor of History.

As an undergraduate, Beaudoin earned a double major in history and French, and his scholarly interests bring those fields together. He has taught courses on various topics in early modern and 19th-century European history, as well as world and Chinese civilization.

Besides essays in the Journal of Social History, the Encyclopedia of European Social History, the Encyclopedia of Social History, and the Encyclopedia of World History (6 ed.), Beaudoin is author of The Industrial Revolution, a reader in Houghton Mifflin’s “Problems in European Civilization” series, and Poverty in World History, published by Routledge Press.

Beaudoin holds a B.A. from Bates College, M.A. degrees from University of Maine and Carnegie Mellon University, and a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University.

Professor Beaudoin has put together a varied list of recommended reading.  The list covers books of the popular mystery genre, works in historical fiction, and non-fiction titles in his specialized area of history.  Stop by the library to see a display of his recommended titles and check one out today!

 Favorite book in college:

 Buddenbrooks, by Thomas Mann.  I read this book for a class on German history and I was fascinated by this tale of a proud German family weathering the great transformations that rocked the 19th century.

Favorite discipline-related book:

 The Trial of Mme Caillaux, by Edward Berenson.  This is a fine example of a technique known as “microhistory,” in which the historian places one event into its deepest contexts and then uses that to explore the mindsets of the times.  In this case, Berenson focuses on the 1914 trial of Henriette Caillaux, the wife of a former prime minister of France, for murdering the editor of one of Paris’ most important daily newspapers.  He uses this single case and the lives of those involved to explore the cultural tensions surrounding the emergence of new gender roles and the rise of the popular press.  For a relatively small book, it packs a great punch.

Book recommendation for students:

 I have four recommendations.  For anyone interested in history, I would suggest Steven Johnson’s The Ghost Map.  This is an engaging analysis of the different circumstances that led to the recognition in 19th-century London that cholera is a waterborne illness.  Although I’m not completely convinced by his very optimistic vision of what urban life has to offer humanity, it’s a great read.  For a more serious historical analysis, I would recommend Michael Miller’s The Bon Marché, the history of the first great department store in Paris, which is still in operation and well worth a visit.  Miller does an excellent job of explaining how tradition could be and was adapted to make the new and modern more accessible and accepted.  After all, there was a time when department stores were new and seemingly “dangerous” – their success was never guaranteed.  Finally, I would recommend Stendhal’s The Red and the Black and Balzac’s Père Goriot for identical reasons; both tell the story of young people trying to find their way in a turbulent world.

One book you would have on a deserted island:

 I’m going to cheat on this one!  I would choose a compendium of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.  (Technically, I think the first 3 books are in one compendium and the last 3 are in a second compendium.)  Maupin does a great job of bringing the era and his characters to life.  Whenever I pick up one of these books, I feel like I’m getting back in touch with long-lost friends.

Favorite authors:

Since I read mainly non-fiction for work, I tend to gravitate to fiction, especially mysteries, for pleasure reading.  So my favorite authors include those who can use history to tell a great yarn and mystery writers.  In the first category, I loved James Michener and Leon Uris when I was younger.  By Michener, I especially enjoyed Centennial and Poland, and by Uris, I liked QB VII and Trinity.  Among mystery writers, I would highly recommend everything by P.D. James and Henning Mankell.  Caleb Carr has written a couple of nice novels that combine both history and mystery, The Alienist and The Angel of Darkness.  You can find similar works set in France by Barbara Corrado Pope.  I’ve read Cezanne’s Quarry and The Blood of Lorraine.  Finally, I also enjoy the work of Richard Russo.  He freaked me out a little with Empire Falls, however.  Its main characters include a high school student living in a decaying mill town whose father owns a diner and whose mother is named Jeannine.  I grew up in a decaying mill town, my father owned a diner, and my mother’s name is Jeannine.  Spooky!

 Last read:

Christopher Rice’s The Snow Garden, a story set in an elite New England college, but whose characters enjoyed a much more “exciting” life than I did at their age!  [OK, this may not be the best choice, since one of the characters is sleeping with his professor, but it is the last book I read!]

Next read:

 Harlan Coben’s Hold Tight. (Though technically, this isn’t my next read, since I’m in the middle of it right now.)  I had never heard of Coben until last year, when Astrid Hullar, who teaches French in Strasbourg, lent me a couple of his books.  He writes fast-paced thrillers and mysteries whose main characters are often as sarcastic as they are resourceful.  The books are pure escapism, and I can’t put them down!

For my “real” next read, it will probably be David Leavitt’s most recent book, The Indian Clerk, though frankly I’m hoping it isn’t too mathematical.  I’ve read some of his other works, The Lost Language of Cranes, Equal Affections, and While England Slept, so I’m looking forward to this new one.

As Promised…Jami Powell’s Playlist

August 19, 2010

A few months ago, Jami Powell wrote up a list of her favorite book titles so that I could share them via the Library Blog.  Jami is also a music lover and film buff and had promised some forthcoming posts devoted to those two venues as well.  I am happy to share Jami’s list of recommended song titles. Prepare yourself-these songs are as varied and eclectic as the book titles she recommended in her first post.  I had an evening filled with great enjoyment and astonishment when I listened to these pieces.   These are guaranteed to wake you up! Stan Campbell, the library director, has ordered a copy of each CD so that you,  intrepid reader, may try these out for yourself.  Look for the display in the library-Coming Soon!  A big  “Thank You” goes out to Jami Powell for her very informative and entertaining work.  I look forward with hope and glee  to more posts from Jami on film, books and music!

My Mix, My Love”, by Jami Powell

It is a sure sign of my devoted affection when I give you a mix cd.  Not so long ago, it would have been a mix tape with clunky yet considered Sharpie artwork decorating the case insert sleeve.  Now though, I give you a shiny compact disc, freshly burned with a dozen or so choice tracks and arranged to integrate with your specific situation. Crisp, laser-printed labels designed with themed images and quirky fonts have replaced my thick swirls of Sharpie.  But the visual element of my mix cds is informatively concise because what really matters to me is The Playlist.

I will invest significant time and consideration in designing a playlist.  My closest friends would posit that I agonize over the process but I can assure you it’s a labor of love.  So I begin my work by tossing certain candidate songs in to a blank iTunes playlist (or canvas, as I like to think of it.)  I then move those songs around to experiment with the ordering, paying close attention to how each song begins and ends.  Transitions are a key element of any playlist.  The music sets the mood, ignites the emotion, fuels the theme – even five seconds of fading silence at the end of a song can make a listener tune out and lose that vital contact with the next song.  Wielding some cool digital tech-tools, I can easily edit, chop, prune and boost songs.   Long, lead-in beginnings and excessively gradual fade-outs are carefully trimmed and dovetailed with the next song in the playlist.  Low audio levels are tweaked to match levels of other songs.  This is particularly important when mixing older songs with newer, more technology-enhanced tracks.  And then of course, there are my three rules for The Playlist.

Rule #1:  Do not interpret song lyrics. Breaking this rule or encouraging your listener to do so will have poor results.  Lyric interpretation is a tempting idea but trust me, it always gets creepy.  Most of the time, only some of the lyrics will apply to the sentiment you are trying to express.  Eventually, a bit of lyric about something graphic or gross or corny will be sung and then disaster can happen – lyric misinterpretation.  Let the music convey your feelings instead of relying solely on the sage words of Snoop Dogg or Rob Zombie.

Rule #2:  Do not interpret song titles unless it is a themed mix. Wedding, bridal/baby shower, or road trips – whatever the occasion, if you’ve expressly designed the playlist around a theme or event, song titles can add to the emotion and effectiveness of a mix cd.  But choose wisely and be creative.  The Cars have a song called “Drive” but its 80s bummer-ballad feel can quickly drag down a peppy road trip cd.  Instead, try an old-school classic like C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” or “King of the Road” by Roger Miller.  These are quirky, recognizable songs but ones that don’t get a lot of radio airplay.

Rule #3:  Do not provide a detailed track listing.  Unless it is vital for the occasion, I do not include a detailed listing of the songs on a mix cd.  It simply kills the emotional effect of the song order.  Before listening to a mix cd, if you already know The Jeffersons theme song is the finale track, the moment it actually plays will be marred by your pre-knowledge.  There will be no pleasant, surprised recollection of the iconic TV theme song.  Your hands won’t clap as happily and “Fish don’t fry in the kitchen.  Beans don’t burn on the grill” will have lost some of its zing for you.  Let the element of surprise and discovery shape the playlist flow.

Whether I choose a slim plastic case or a simple windowed envelope to house your mix cd, you are guaranteed to receive a true gift crafted from the deepest innards of my heart.  And since I am unable to personally give you a mix cd right now, I offer up the next best thing – a playlist.  So here it is – for you, for the approaching summer twilight, for how much I love you.  Yes, you.

The following is an energetic playlist I might use as a way of introducing someone to bands and songs I like.  It is suited quite well for a running workout (as frequently referred to below) but it could also be fun for road trips, housecleaning jaunts or other assorted merrymaking activities.  Enjoy!

  1. Peter, Bjorn and John, “Amsterdam” – The perfect starter song for any occasion, this tune from the Swedish trio will get you moving with its happy-go-lucky, scratchy beat and pleasant vocals.  It’s slow enough to get your activity rolling but funky enough to elicit proper finger tapping and/or head bobbing.  Another song to try from them (a minor hit here in the US) is a track called “Young Folks.”  It features an irresistibly plucky beat and probably the best whistling action in a song since Guns n’ Roses’ “Patience.”
  2. Trick Daddy, “Let’s Go” – Now it’s time to wake up your body or the car or the neighborhood.  (NOTE:  This song is explicitly worded in parts so either play it with discretion or buy the clean version.)  As the full-tilt rocker type, I typically only dabble in rap but I fell hard for this song in part because of its expertly applied sampling from Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train.”  This is not a fast song but the rapping is staccato-awesome and the trademark angry yells from L’il Jon just fire me up and get my blood pumping.  There’s a reason why this song is often played at sporting events – it’s a fantastic motivator.
  3. TV on the Radio, “Playhouses” – Often categorized as masters of experimental rock, this band from New York City has an instantly recognizable sound down to the very drumbeat, guitar strum, and first line of lyric.  Some of their songs are an acquired taste but this particular track offers hypnotic rhythms and trance-like vocalizations perfect for moving feet (not to mention some head-trippy thinking.)  Push through a brief slowdown in the middle of this song for a frenzied finish.  Other recommended tracks from this band:  “King Eternal” and “Dreams.”
  4. The Johnson Mountain Boys, “Orange Blossom Special” – Push the pedal to the metal with this speedy bluegrass beauty.  Even if you don’t dig bluegrass music in general (and I typically don’t because of the nasally vocals), you will find yourself moving faster to this short burst of fiddling, locomotive-mimicking brilliance.  I like to use this track for my workout and hit it just when I need a second wind.  No matter how tired I might feel, this song kicks me in to another gear.
  5. LCD Soundsystem, “Get Innocuous!” – Okay, okay, slow down a bit now and let the heart rate regulate.  Bring the mini-van back under 85 mph.  Use this excellent building song by a “band” that’s really just one guy with some deftly applied electronics.  (You might recognize this track from a TV commercial for the video game Grand Theft Auto.)  This is a dense song, clocking in at 7 minutes, but it is expertly constructed as you listen.  It begins in the distance with a quiet steady beat and gradually adds layers of different sounds and beats as it builds toward an almost crescendo-like cacophony of rhythm which then fades down to some creepy strings.  It’s absolutely hypnotic and ideal for zoning out during a run or interstate wasteland.
  6. Kaiser Chiefs, “I Predict a Riot” – I first discovered this band while tooling around the English countryside in a rental car, blasting a BBC radio station.  This song played and epiphany commenced.  There really isn’t anything complex or deep about this band – they simply make great music with a solid mix of catchy tunes, clever lyrics, and energizing guitar sound.  Kaiser Chiefs have a bit of “singsongyness” about their songs but it misleads you just enough to let the powerful, crunchy choruses take full effect and get you jumping.
  7. Muse, “Knights of Cydonia” – Muse is an alternative/new progressive rock power trio from Britain who are starting to get some mainstream attention now thanks in part to recent film trailers using their songs.  This particular track, which some of my fellow virtual rockers may remember from Guitar Hero 3, has a melodramatic, spaghetti Western tinge to its build-up beginning.  It then launches in to a galloping rhythm perfect for running.  The guitar presence is huge and as integral to the overall dramatic theme as the vocals.  This song features a fantastic power jam near its end.  Let it lift your soul and turn your legs to jelly.
  8. Liam Lynch, “United States of Whatever” – For my playlists, I like tossing in short, quirky songs to break up an intense section of music.  This is the perfect track for providing a little comic relief as well as some grooving bass.  Lynch is one of those musician/comedian types (like Jack Black and Tenacious D) who write catchy tunes with hilarious lyrics.  If you like to laugh a little while you’re rocking out, I recommend trying a Liam Lynch podcast.  Visit his site at or just check him out on YouTube.  “Yeah, whatevuh!”
  9. Ladytron, “PlayGirl” – For me, nothing quite satisfies like an electronic, synth-heavy pop song with airy female vocals.  This just happens to be Ladytron’s specialty and they are experts at pairing clean, thumpy beats with sing-along-worthy lyrics.
  10. Tor/Sufjan Stevens/Aesop Rock, “Star of Wonder/None Shall Pass” – There are three separate and distinct entities responsible for this aural creation.  First, a foundation consisting mainly of ethereal-voiced indie darling Sufjan Stevens’ “Star of Wonder” is paired with the rugged, smart rap of Aesop Rock and “None Shall Pass.”  A music producer from Vancouver known as Tor combines the two very disparate songs and adds bass and drum tracks to create a stunningly powerful and beautiful mash-up.  To truly appreciate the genius involved in this kind of transformative creation, listen to it several times and then listen to the separate songs.  He creates art from art.  This track is only one component of Tor’s collection called Illinoize (a play on Stevens’ Illinois release) and is available for free.  Yes, free – the good, legal kind of free!  Go to and download it now.  And if you don’t dig the rapping, there are instrumental-only versions available.
  11. Gothenberg Symphony Orchestra, Tchaikovsky, “1812 Overture” – I know, I know, this is a classical music powerhouse you’ve heard hundreds of times before.  But stick it in the middle of your workout playlist and watch what happens.  The opening is taut with anticipation as the horns and strings lead in to the first cannon booms.  (I still get goose bumps each time I hear the chorus emerge with the church bells beginning to peal.)  The heart is absolutely soaring as the music methodically builds to that famous climactic finish any classical music cretin would recognize.  This piece was written to commemorate the victorious Russian defense of Moscow against Napoleon’s army in 1812 so it has victory and patriotism and joy exploding from each note.  It will have you running at full throttle, face lit with joy, fist in the air, resisting the urge to leap with each cymbal crash and thunderous boom.  Or if you’re like me, not resisting the urge and making a spectacle of yourself on Main Street.  And not caring either!
  12. Slipknot, “Duality” – Don’t pooh-pooh this band simply because they wear scary masks.  Sure, Slipknot’s music is heavy and dark but the instrumentation is clean, intricate and packed with aural discoveries.  The lead vocalist is a rare breed of singer – he deploys a not unpleasant controlled scream-sing with some impressive vocal roaring but the choruses are melodic and beautiful in a hard, metallic way.  I promise you’ll find yourself wanting to sing/yell along with him.  Even if you’re not a fan of heavy music, give this song a try and let its complexity and gritty sound move you.
  13. La Roux, “Bulletproof (Manhattan Clique Remix Radio)” – Ear candy is good for you!  This catchy current pop tune has some dance-worthy, girl power spunk to it and I recommend this particular remix of the song for the richer keyboard sound and heavier bump-beat.  La Roux is an English guy-girl synthpop duo reminiscent of early Eurythmics – she sings and he plays keyboards.  If you miss those English-accented synthesizer days of the 80s, check this band out and dance down memory lane.
  14. Gorillaz, “Stylo” – Everybody’s favorite virtual band released a new album this past spring and the first single from it is a slow yet steady thud of funky electronica.  There’s a smart whiff of melancholy about this track but guest singer Bobby Womack and guest rapper Mos Def provide the transcendent soul I’ve come to expect from every Gorillaz song.  What I love about Gorillaz is their ability to merge so many different elements in to one cohesive sound.  Techno beats, rappers, synthesizers, soul singers, and fairy-voiced minstrels – they are all ingredients mixed up masterfully in to one delicious stew of sound.  A Gorillaz song is like a stage play for the ears, with many characters, personalities and backdrops.  If you like variety and your ear is keenly bent toward interesting sounds and pleasant melodies all backed up with some serious bass and beats, give this song (and band) a try.

Check out Jami Powell’s Recommended Book Titles!

June 30, 2010

Summer is a wonderful time to catch up on reading those titles you have put aside all year long because you were too busy to read them.  CTL staff member, Jami Powell, was kind enough to share with us her short list of favorite book titles.  Jami’s titles range from young adult fiction to horror/science fiction and also include nonfiction titles on current topics such as sustainable and healthy agriculture or politics.

Just in case you have not had the pleasure of meeting Jami Powell, one of my favorite people on campus by the way, here is a short bio.

My name is Jami Powell.  I was born and raised in Danville and educationally processed through the Boyle County school system and the University of Kentucky.  I received my BA in English in 1992 and subsequently lived in Chicago for four years where I worked in the technology field.

I returned to Danville in 1997 and have been with Centre College since. I initially worked in ITS and transitioned three years ago to the CTL to focus more on academic technology and classroom design.

A voracious reader since 1st grade, I devoured Weekly Reader and the scads of books my mom would let me pick from the mail-order section.  My mom encouraged my reading habit by always buying me any book I wanted.  To this day, she still loves buying books for me, although I now limit  her generosity to the Christmas season.

Even as an adult, I can best describe my style of reading as Extreme Miscellany.  My appetite for books has always been quite varied by genre and topic – I love reading about everything!  I am often reading two or three books at the same time and it’s not unusual for me to keep a novel by my bed and a book about sharks (or birdhouse building or classic cars or the history of breakfast cereals) in the den.

Besides books, I also love music, nature, travel, sports, wicked  senses of humor, and irony (oh and books on all of these topics, of course!)

A few thoughts on a few books

Stuart Little by E.B. White:  Quite possibly my personal all-time favorite, Stuart Little is a book I read about fifty times as a kid.  The concept of a regular family having a mouse as a child and treating him as a normal member of the family thrilled my little girl soul.  And of course when Stuart leaves his home and family for an adventure of his own (to find his best friend, a bird), I couldn’t wait to discover what would unfold.  E.B. White had a fantastic style of simple yet beautifully flowing prose.  His storytelling mesmerized me while Garth Williams’ illustrations painted for me a perfect memory that has never faded.  Even now, I have a soft spot for mice and I still enjoy reading this book.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell:  As a young girl and the only child of my parents, I was moved by this book on many levels.  The beauty of this written tale and the harshness of its reality simply broke my young heart.  I remember reading it and being so sad yet so proud of the young female main character (Karana) as she would overcome endless obstacles to survive on her own.  And I’m a sucker for animal characters in books, especially stories where humans and animals befriend each other and work together.  That’s what I’ve always wanted life to really be like!

The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells:  Through early junior high and high school days, I found myself drawn to scarier, darker fare.  I’ve read every Stephen King novel multiple times but I’ve always regarded this short novel from Wells as one of the most frightening stories ever written.  It scared me to my core and I remember reading it in bed and being too disturbed for sleep.  Never mind about the dramatic radio reading that sent the nation in to a real tizzy back in the late 30s.  Just reading the original Wells’ novel and the almost scientifically detached manner in which it was penned still elevates my heart rate like nothing else.

**(The Invasion from Mars: A Study in the Psychology of Panic With the Complete Script of the Famous Orson Welles Broadcast by Hadley Cantril:  This is an interesting companion to H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. Cantril provides a psychological study of the panic that arose when Orson Welles performed in the now infamous broadcast of The War of the Worlds.)**

We Can Build You by Philip K. Dick:  In college, I craved books that messed with my head and made me think hard on hard questions.  So I read a significant amount of work by Philip K. Dick (who wrote the novella upon which the film Blade Runner is based.)  But We Can Build You is not that story.  I enjoy reading older science fiction because it interests me how an author (writing from his/her own perspective of time and culture) decides to approach futuristic subject matter.  This novel was written in 1962 and its foundation story is about a guy who makes androids in the images of Civil War figures.  His two prototypes are Edwin M. Stanton and Abraham Lincoln, both of whom have interesting reactions to contemporary American society.  Mix in to this weird hilarity a love story with some elements of obsession and mental illness and you’ve got one heck of an intriguing read.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer:  Who hasn’t flirted with the notion of chucking all your worldly possessions and just taking off out west to see where the road will lead you?  Part mystery, part biography, part travelogue, Into the Wild is a book I’m almost compelled to read on a regular basis because I so strongly identify with its theme of freedom.   It’s the heartbreaking and sometimes infuriating real-life story of Christopher McCandless and his doomed journey to the Alaskan wilderness.  What I love most about this book is Krakauer’s ability to weave other stories of adventurously kooky free spirits in with the main detailed examination of McCandless.  A mixed bag of feelings will stay plopped in your gut after you finish this one.

Four Corners:  A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea by Kira Salak:  I love to travel and I consider myself a fairly adventurous gal.  I’ve even made a couple of solo treks myself, domestic and international.  But I felt like a real namby-pamby after reading Salak’s story of her solo quest throughout Papua New Guinea.  While you read her recounting of the journey, you’ll be tempted to think Salak is a little crazy but you’ve got to admit the girl has got serious guts.  With some National Geographic articles under her belt, she marries good, solid writing with some excellent travel adventure stories all with a voice that’s almost detached from the danger.  And the powerfully dark and mysterious setting of Papua New Guinea makes for a riveting read.

The Plot Against America by Philip Roth:  Roth is such a cool writer.  In this book, he basically writes his own personal story of growing up in Newark, New Jersey, but situates it in the middle of a fictional re-working of the pre and post-WWII political landscape of America.  The book is a “what if” consideration of history.  What if isolationist Charles Lindbergh had run for president (and won) against FDR?  What if the US had sided with Hitler and stayed out of World War II?  What if the US had turned in to a legitimate anti-Semitic state?  This novel is a thought-provoking and frightening read I would highly recommend for history buffs who value sharp, effective prose and the concept of alternate histories.  (It’s also pretty cool that our very own Danville, Kentucky, is a featured location within the novel.)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan:  I’ve talked about this book so much in the last year that I’m quite sure many folks are ready for me to shut up about it.  But it’s an eye-opening examination of why modern-day Americans eat the way we eat – simple as that.  Pollan personally follows the main food processes currently at work in our society – industrial, organic or alternative, and self-obtained.   His writing style is not costumed in scare tactics so that his straightforward approach allows the reader to absorb the simple science and economics behind the massively complex concept of food production.  Reading this book will make you want to eat differently.  (If you can only read a portion of this book, make sure it’s the section describing the science behind corn sex.  Yes, corn plants have sex – it’s amazing!)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson:  I included this book because it’s what I am currently reading.  Almost 100 pages in, I am sufficiently engaged with this story of an unsolved murder written by a Swedish author who in real life submitted three manuscripts in a series for publication and then promptly died.  I will admit though that I only decided to read this book because I want to know what all the fuss is about.  It’s the same reason I read the Harry Potter books.  It’s also why I tried to read the Twilight series.  (Tried but failed.  And I’m quite proud of myself for not being able to continue.)  Anyway, it can sometimes be fun and even surprising to read a book everyone is raving about, regardless of the age of those raving.”

Check out one of these titles, on display in the Grace Doherty Library, recommended by Jami. Jami has varied, but excellent, tastes in books, music and movies and you are guaranteed to enjoy your chosen book.

Coming soon:  Jami’s recommendations on music and films.

Easter Eggs-Just for Fun

April 2, 2010

People have been decorating Easter eggs for many years.  The egg is a religous icon, but also a secular one, symbolizing fertility and rebirth.  Here are a few sites where you can find some fun and innovative ideas for your egg decorating this year.

The American Folklife Centre at the Library of Congress has copied and posted this out of print booklet, titled Egg Art.  The photos show up in black and white, but the intricate designs are lovely.  These are definitely not your kid’s colored eggs. 

Do you want to die your eggs the old-fashioned and cost -effective way?  Check out this article about dying eggs the Natural Way.  From onion skins, to coffee, to spinach leaves, or blueberries, natural dyes can be fun to try.  Not so sure I would appreciate the smelly spinach leaves on my pretty eggs, but a few of the other suggestions at this site sound fun.

I have always loved the beatiful, traditional Pysanky eggs.  Here is a beginner’s site for learning how to style your own Ukrainian Pysanky eggs:  Warning:  there will be special supplies to purchase to decorate the Pysanky eggs.  This is not a project that you can expect to have materials on hand for.

Finally, you can always go to your local grocery store and pick up a Paas decorating kit and improvise with rubber bands, pencil erasers to stamp on dots, white crayons for drawing designs on your eggs, and other do-it-yourself tools.  Just experiment and have some fun!

Here is  a link to an article in the Telegraph about Easter traditions in different countries.  From bonfires in Finland, to breaking eggs in Latvia, different cultures varied Easter traditions.  My favorite is the Polish tradition of throwing water on one another on Easter Monday, or maybe I just like the name of the tradition:   Smingus-Dyngus.

The List

March 12, 2010

Yesterday, I posted a brief description of the new “Faculty Recommended” display that the Grace Doherty Library will be featuring which will include books selected by a particular faculty member as meaningful or important.  John Kinkade, Assistant Professor of English at Centre College, is our first featured faculty member.  Several followers have requested that the entire list be included, so here it is, compliments of Marla Sweitzer of the student publication The Cento. Thanks to Marla for interviewing John Kinkade and for sharing his recommendations!

“There’s no such thing as a book that will be important to everyone.  I love J. D. Salinger’s stories, and I think The Catcher in the Rye is fine.  But I’m missing the gene that makes that book life-changing.  Too bad for me, I think, but it happens.  So your mileage may vary should you read any of these books.  All of them, though, have made me think hard about the world in new and/or interesting ways.

What I’m currently reading: Ha Jin’s A Good Fall, David Nokes’s Samuel Johnson.
I’m just about through Ha Jin’s collection A Good Fall, all stories about Chinese immigrants in Flushing, N.Y.  Jin writes great sentences (short, direct, surprising), and explores what it means to be displaced from Chinese culture but not quite fully invested in American culture.  I’m also reading David Nokes’s recent biography of Samuel Johnson, one of three new biographies that came out last year to celebrate Johnson’s tercentenary.  I love reading biographies of Johnson, the subject of my dissertation, which is good, because people have been writing biographies on him for 250 years and show no signs of letting up.

Next on my list:  Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca
At the beginning of the year I made a list of twelve books that I intend to read – finally – this year.  Most of the twelve have been moved from Texas to Florida to Kentucky over the past few years (for example:  somehow, I’ve never finished Kafka’s The Trial).  But next up I’m going to try Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, because it’s one of the quicker reads on the list, and this time of year I need a bit of that, especially since I still need to do my taxes.  Then I want to finally, finally read Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children.

Best book that mentions Centre, however briefly:  Holly Goddard Jones’s Girl Trouble.
Jones was our visiting writer during CentreTerm, and I bought her book out of obligation.  And then I was floored by these stories.  They’re all set in the fictional town of Roma, Ky., and part of their appeal for me is surely that Jones is from Logan County, where my parents grew up, and right beside Bowling Green, where I grew up.  But her stories are extraordinary studies of how the choices we make build our lives, and how those lives can become traps.  Well, they’re that and about a million other things.  Read these stories now, so when Jones’s career takes off, you can talk about how you’ve been reading her stuff for years.  They’re dark, but they’ll make you think harder about the world and your life, and you can’t ask much more of a book than that.

Two books that made me think hard about the world:  Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes  and Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin.
A friend who is a fine writer and a great teacher told me about Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes, which he said might be the best novel he had ever read.  So I read it when I didn’t have time to read it, and when I came to the end, I paced around my apartment for an hour, then wandered around my neighborhood in San Antonio for a few hours, then sat and pondered my existence for a few more hours.  It’s got problems – no structure, bizarre chapters that probably should be omitted, and worst of all, Exley’s distressing misogyny – but it was so good that I couldn’t read anything else for a week.  It’s a novel about one man’s sad life; his only happiness comes on Sunday afternoons in the fall when he cheers on Frank Gifford and the New York Giants.  That doesn’t sound like much of a book, but Exley is an alchemist, turning bad material into gold.
That same effect – no other reading for a week – has happened one other time in the past twenty years, when I read Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin. Shriver’s novel is a series of letters from the mother of a school shooter to her estranged husband, and it forces you to question, oh, everything that’s ever mattered to you in your life, and usually in distressing, uncomfortable ways.  I included this novel in my junior seminar on “Crime in Literature,” and I was pleased that all my students seemed to be similarly disturbed by the book.  It’s painful, dark, and powerful beyond measure. Judging from interviews I’ve read, Shriver is not a very nice person, but she’s a terrific writer who makes you think hard.

Books for long plane rides and not thinking too hard:  Lee Child’s thrillers.
A few years ago I got hooked on Lee Child’s thrillers.  Child has created an implausible hero who gets into lots of implausible situations and somehow manages to meet a beautiful, available woman in every novel, all thirteen of which conform to a few simple formulas.  But they’re like candy, or maybe drugs.  You can’t stop reading them.  I took two to a conference in New Orleans a couple of years ago and got up at 5:30 every morning to drink coffee at Cafe du Monde and read these novels.  I imagine heaven offers many such mornings, though I really should have saved the second one for the plane ride home.

Books you probably won’t read but that I’ll recommend anyway because you should be reading them:  the novels of Charles Dickens.
I don’t care that someone ruined Dickens for you by making you read A Tale of Two Cities in ninth or tenth grade, I don’t care that you think he’s wordy because you’ve fallen for the inaccurate story that he was paid by the word, and I don’t care that long novels have gone out of style.  Dickens can break your heart, but he’s also hilarious, and he asks all the important questions, and even offers one great big potential answer (try to be kinder).  If pressed, I would probably cite Dickens as my favorite author and Great Expectations as my favorite novel, but then I’d spend two weeks fretting about what other authors and books I should have said instead.

Desert island book:  Book of Ecclesiastes
I can imagine few things more miserable than having only one book to read, as I prefer to read in chain-smoking fashion, starting the next before finishing another, and I like to range relatively far and wide in my reading.  But if I could have only one, I think I’d take the Book of Ecclesiastes.  That might make the suffering seem a little less intense.”

So, there you have it, the list entire.  May it inspire you to create your own list of important, essential reading or lead you to a new favorite title!

Professor John Kinkade recommends life-changing books

March 12, 2010

Visit the library to see a new display of books recommended by Assistant Professor of  English, John Kinkade.  Ranging from popular titles to classics; fiction to non-fiction, Professor Kinkade’s recommended titles can be checked out, literally, at the Grace Doherty Library.  Lee Child has made it on to his Must-Read list with her thirteen thrillers based upon the exploits of retired police office, Jack Reacher.  Also among his selected fictional works are the novels of Charles Dickens, of course, with Great Expectations earning the honor of his favorite read of all time.  The humor and heart of Dickens are part of the charm, but so is the moral of human kindness offered in all of his works.

In the realm of non-fiction, John Kinkade includes the biography of Samuel Johnson in his discussion of what he is reading right now.  Samuel Johnson holds a special fascination for Professor Kinkade and was the subject of his dissertation at the University of Texas at Austin.

These are but a few of the titles recommended by John Kinkade.  Please stop by the library to see all of the featured titles and to read Professor Kinkade’s analysis and description of each title.  His recommended works are not to be missed and his descriptions are insightful and often humorous as well.

A huge thank-you to John Kinkade, our first  professor spotlighted in the new FACULTY RECOMMEND…display in Grace Doherty Library.  Look forward to more recommendations from featured Centre professors.  Next up-Lori Hartmann-Mahmud!