You Should

You Should…Listen to: Regina Spektor’s Music (Sarah Willen-Anthropology)

Regina SpektorYou should listen to Regina Spektor’s music — but only if you’re ready for a brush with genius. Wild genius, that is, skyrocketing musically through the magical, heartbreaking, infuriating, absurd journey that is life. Nothing is lyrically off limits for Spektor — no topic too grand (“Laughing With”), no predicament too small (“Dance Anthem of the 80s”) to stir her imagination. A classically trained pianist  (“Après Moi”), mediocre guitarist (“That Time”), and proud immigrant to the United States — when she and her family emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1990, with support from HIAS, she was just 9 1/2 — Spektor belongs to a cadre of gifted artists (Gary Shteyngart is another) for whom American promise, Jewish otherness, Russian melancholy, and familial closeness meld in a worldview that is wise (“Samson”), joyful (“On the Radio”), and occasionally bizarre (“Pavlov’s Daughter”). Whether she’s loving on New York City (“Don’t Leave Me (Ne Me Quitte Pas)”), mourning an impossible love (“Better”), parodying Second Amendment fetishism (“Uh-Merica”), dreaming up the baby boy whose clothes she’ll someday pin funkily at the beach (“Folding Chair”), or shredding the high priests of exploitation, greed, and unctuous politics (“The Trapper and the Furrier”; “Ballad of a Politician”), Regina Spektor’s America is a place we all should visit, and linger. Oh — and I hear she wrote the theme song for “Orange is the New Black.” Is it worth watching?

 

Sarah Willen
Associate Professor of Anthropology
University of Connecticut

 

Who is Sarah Willen? Sarah Willen is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Connecticut and Director of the Research Program on Global Health and Human Rights at the university’s Human Rights Institute. She holds a PhD in Anthropology and an MPH in Global Health, both from Emory University. She is a two-time recipient of the Rudolf Virchow Prize from the Critical Anthropology of Global Health Caucus of the Society for Medical Anthropology. She is also the author of a 2019 book Fighting for Dignity: Migrant Lives at Israel’s Margins published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

 

You Should…Read: Kalanithi’s “When Breath Becomes Air,” and Gawande’s “Being Mortal,” (Sara Harrington-UConn Library)

Front cover of two books If medicine is an art as much as a science, then a journey of illness through the medical world is part humanistic voyage.  Two books published in the last few years—When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (2016) and Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (2017)—call upon our deepest and truest humanity, and you should read them in tandem.  In When Breath Becomes Air physician becomes patient; in Being Mortal physician becomes fellow traveler on a paternal medical odyssey.  Each narrative is an exercise in heartache, gut punch, intellectual puzzle, moral quandary, and finally, existential ‘what if?’  My mind returned these texts over and over since I read them, inspiring me to wrestle anew with the medical journeys that I have traveled in the past and will no doubt walk in the future.  I’m a librarian, so people ask me for reading recommendations all the time, and I’m always happy to share my working shortlist.  The impact of When Breath Becomes Air and Being Mortal lingers and lasts, and you should read them for yourself.

Sara Harrington
Associate University Librarian for Academic Engagement
University of Connecticut

Who is Sara Harrington? Sara Harrington previously worked at the Ohio University Libraries and the Rutgers University Libraries. Sara holds a Ph.D. in Art History, an M.L.S., an M.Ed. in Higher Education, and a post-graduate certificate in the Curation and Management of Digital Assets. Sara works to integrate academic research libraries into university teaching, researching, and learning, building collaborations with stakeholder communities to support student and faculty success. Sara joined the UConn Library in 2018, and is enjoying getting to know New England across the course of all four of its beautiful seasons.

You Should…Read: Don Brown’s “The Unwanted-Stories of Syrian Refugees” (Harry van der Hulst-Linguistics)

Cover of the "The Unwanted" comic bookGraphic novels have for some time become an important medium for expressing trouble and human suffering in the world. Growing up in the Netherlands I became familiar with graphic novels early on. We called them ‘strips’ or ‘stripverhalen’ (‘verhalen’ means ‘stories’.) In the US, people for long called them ‘comics.’ I like reading (watching?) strips as a kid. There was a rich supply, none about superheros though. That started as an American genre in the 1930s. The strips that I read are largely unknown in the US, except for Tintin (‘Kuifje’), Asterix, and the Smurfs perhaps. For long, all these graphic narratives were thought of as stuff for kids, and perhaps not even ‘healthy’ stuff; a poor substitute for reading ‘real’ books and setting young people up for violence. (That sounds familiar doesn’t it…videogames…). Strips and comics are still a flourishing medium, but then appeared a more ‘serious’ genre, notoriously exemplified by Art Spiegelman’s Maus and works by Will Eisner, both American writers who drew and wrote stories that are clearly not aimed at children, which somewhere lead to the term ‘graphic novel.’ Recently, I read The unwanted –Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (2018), a ‘documentary graphic novel.’ The title speaks for itself. The drawings are really good, but it is of course the subject that ‘draws’ you in. Soon, there will be a graphic novel about hundreds of children being packed into ‘detention centers’ at the border, if there isn’t one already.

Harry van der Hulst
Professor of Linguistics
University of Connecticut

 

van dr Hulst, Harry headshotWho is Harry van der Hulst? Harry van der Hulst is a professor of linguistics and the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Connecticut. He received his Ph.D. from Leiden University in his native Netherlands, where he also taught linguistics before joining UConn linguistics faculty in 2000. He specializes in phonology, but has also conducted research in feature systems and segmental structure, syllable structure, word accent systems, vowel harmony, and sign language phonology, to name a few. Harry has been editor-in-chief of the international SSCI linguistics journal. He was a 2017–2018 UConn faculty fellow at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute and he is also a Life Fellow of the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study.

You Should…Read: Jonathan White’s Tides (Alain Frogley-School of Fine Arts Associate Dean)

Tides Book CoverWhether it’s beach season, the fiftieth anniversary of the first moon landing, or our daily proximity in Connecticut to vast bodies of water in only partly predictable motion, there are plenty of reasons right now why you should read Tides: The Science and Spirit of the Ocean by Jonathan White (San Antonio, TX: Trinity University Press, 2017). But the most important is that it’s a wonderful book. White offers an all-too-rare example of a narrative that brings together science, art, and the humanities in a way that is much more than the sum of their parts (and never less). The art is mostly in the writing. Unpretentiously beautiful, it effortlessly weaves together complex science, cultural history, ecology, and even the engineering and economics of generating electric power, with compelling vignettes of the author’s close encounters with his subject, and the lives of those who rely upon it for their survival. Which is, ultimately, all of us; but White is particularly sensitive to the experience of indigenous peoples across the globe, who are frequently both custodians of ancient oceanic knowledge and the first casualties of climate change. He brings to bear decades of experience as a sailor, surfer, and conservationist, to offer a vision that is passionate but never preachy. So read it now, before all too soon you’ll have time only to think about grading papers and shoveling snow.

 

Alain Frogley, DPhil
Associate Dean, School of Fine Arts & Professor of Music History
University of Connecticut

Alain FrogleyWho is Alain Frogley? Alain Frogley is a native of Great Britain and holds degrees from Oxford University and the University of California at Berkeley. He has taught at Oxford and Lancaster universities and in 1994 was appointed to the faculty of the University of Connecticut. He is a specialist in the music of the late-19th and 20th centuries, particularly that of Britain and America, but he has also worked on the cultural contexts of musical nationalism. His most recent work includes research into the reception of British music in Nazi Germany and racial Anglo-Saxonism in music. In 2005–2006 he was a fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies.

You Should…Read: What the Eyes Don’t See (Juli Wade-CLAS Dean)

What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hanna-AttishaThis terrific memoir is a story of a public health disaster and the courageous pediatrician who provided the research that eventually forced officials to respond to the truth members of the community had been speaking, unheard. When a decision was made in 2014 to switch the source of water for the impoverished city of Flint, MI to the Flint River without adding appropriate corrosion inhibitors, lead from pipes leached into the water and poisoned the population of about 100,000 people.  In addition to documenting the crisis, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of the pediatric residency program at Flint’s Hurley Medical Center and a Michigan State University faculty member, poignantly describes the community she serves, her personal passions and connections, and the circumstances that drove her to investigate and publicize the crisis. I also worked at MSU when the disaster unfolded and lived less than 50 miles from Flint. I was appalled and saddened, and proud of the people who worked tirelessly to move forward in a positive way. For those (like me) who love a good detective story, particularly one grounded in science and full of positive human nature, I highly recommend this read. If only it were fiction…

 

Juli Wade
Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
University of Connecticut

Julie WadeWho is Juli Wade? In December 2018, Juli Wade was named the new Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut. Prior to this, Professor Wade was the Associate Provost at Michigan State University, where she had joined the psychology department in 1995. She received her Bachelors’ degree in psychology from Cornell University and her doctorate from the University of Texas. Wade’s research focuses on understanding “how structural and biochemical changes within the central nervous system regulate behavior, using lizards and songbirds as model organisms.” Read more about Dean Wade in UConn Today.

You Should…Read: Micrographia Illustrata

George Adams, Micrographia Illustrata, 4th ed. (London, 1771), retrieved from babel.hathitrust.org

Visual technologies have conditioned us to dramatic alterations of size and scale, but in the eighteenth century, they still retained a considerable shock factor. Microscopy, for instance, was likened to a type of travel, a way to enter a previously unknown “Magazine of Wonders.” The London instrument-maker George Adams endeavored to popularize it among non-specialists and, not incidentally, improve his sales through the many editions of his Micrographia Illustrata. He assured his readers that everything they took for granted—blight on rose leaves, mold on bread—would transform into something new and entirely unanticipated when magnified. “The whole Earth is full of Life,” he wrote, “and then if we call in the Assistance of Art, what a new Scene of Wonder opens to our View? What an infinite Variety of living creatures present themselves to our Sight?” Even more exciting was the practice of solar microscopy, in which the magnified view was projected on a wall, giving observers the sense of entering into the object itself. In his book, Adams describes the act of magnification as an early form of virtual reality that allowed viewers to set off into new and bewildering landscapes. And, of course, he provided a catalogue of instruments and prices at the end of the volume, just in case anyone was interested.

-Elizabeth Athens 
Assistant Professor
Department of Art and Art History
University of Connecticut

You Should…Play: Depression Quest

"YOU SHOULD…PLAY:

Depression Quest
By Zoe Quinn 2013

…Or maybe you shouldn’t, if you’re someone who should heed the gamesite’s trigger warning. Or maybe you should talk to someone at the Suicide Prevention Lifeline Chat link provided on the game’s “about” page. But if you’ve ever wondered about depression—what it is, what it’s like, whether you are yourself depressed—or if you’ve ever wished someone in your life would “just get over it,” then Depression Quest is an informative starting place.

Depression Quest is an interactive (non)fiction online game, available at its award-winning gamesite at http://www.depressionquest.com/ and on Steam, where it gets terrible, angry reviews for not conforming to traditional shoot-em-up gaming formats and objectives. Instead, Depression Quest is a literate, interactive narrative of the daily struggle of a young adult living with depression, including how depression impacts choices made around work and social interactions, Poignantly, the “choices” available to players include a “normal” or non-depression option for responding or interacting that is crossed out: Indeed, such responses and thought-processes are not available to those suffering from depression.

Although minimalist in its use of images and audio, Depression Quest nonetheless subtly signals “levels” of depression based on the options chosen, including lessening color concentration and scratchier sound to suggest the loss of the intensity of and pleasure in living that lead too many to contemplate ending their lives.

Quinn was threatened and doxxed as one of the primary targets of “GamerGate,” an online harassment campaign against several women involved in the gaming industry. GamerGate continues as part of a culture war against diversification in gaming form and content, and sadly reflects a general cultural ignorance and embarrassment surrounding mental illness that we all should be engaged in combating—and not just when a straight, white male celebrity ends his life."

- Kelly Dennis
Associate Professor of Art History
Department of Art + Art History

You Should…Read: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A Life

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, A Life by Jane Sherron De Hart book image

"You should Read: RUTH BADER GINSBURG, A LIFE, by Jane Sherron De Hart

An engrossing biography released by Knopf in fall 2018 by a feminist historian about a mother, lawyer, and future judge who did not start out as a feminist.

Who would have predicted that Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg would become a popular culture icon and have thousands of youthful followers at the start of the twenty-first century?  Now is the time to show off your Ginsburg know-how by reading this new and luminous biography, years in the making, by master prose stylist and University of California, Santa Barbara, historian Jane De Hart.  The book is based in part on many interviews De Hart conducted with the justice, her family members, and associates.  All stages in RBG’s life through 2017 are contextualized through the author’s expertise on modern political history, law, and social movements.  To whet your appetite, here are some of my favorite chapters (and chapter titles): Celia’s Daughter, Leaning the Law on Male Turf, The Making of a Feminist Advocate, Setting up Shop and Strategy, An Unexpected Cliff-Hanger, “I Cannot Agree,” Race Matters, and (the final chapter in the book) An Election and a Presidency Like No Other."

-Cornelia Dayton
Professor of History
University of Connecticut

You Should…Listen: “Your Art Sucks” Podcast

Your Art Sucks podcast logo

"You should be listening to the podcast “Your Art Sucks”: http://yourartsuckspodcast.com/

The podcast is meant to encourage artists to just keep creating art for the love of art; each episode delves deep into a topic, challenge or roadblock that artists of all types (visual, performance and written) encounter with concrete examples of an artist that failed and one that triumphed. I listen to this podcast, not as an artist, but as a museum registrar and curator who strives to understand the process behind creation.

My absolute favorite episode is the first one exploring self-criticism as a healthy, necessary tool in not just the artist’s, but everyone’s life. Encouragement that all should take the middle path as self-doubt can cripple you if you succumb to it, but also can also create empty pointless art if you are too full of confidence.  Jackson Pollock is juxtaposed with Connecticut’s own Sol LeWitt (of which two of his works on are currently on display in the Benton).  LeWitt wrote the impassioned letter to his friend and fellow artist, Eva Hesse, that serves as a manifesto for rising above the self-criticism to just do.

Excerpt Letter from Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse (April 14, 1965)

… Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder, wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itching, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rambling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO…"

-Rachel Zilinski
Registrar and Assistant Curator
William Benton Museum of Art
University of Connecticut

You Should…Read: The Sand Queen

Sand Queen A Novel by Helen Benedict book image

“Ok readers: the "bad" and the truly bad humanities. The queen of "bad" is Lady Gaga The Brilliant. Am already standing in line for tickets to A Star is Born coming out in October. Am already planning to see it numerous times. If "bad" is good, she's one of the best --the Super Bowl of 2017 proved that. Just try to deny her.

The truly bad? War. Wanna go there? Read a slew of novels and memoirs out these days or zero in on the best one in the bunch. Helen Benedict's The Sand Queen is a multivoiced novel of the early American war in Iraq. In one corner is a young American army woman, Kate, continuously tormented by her male comrades-in-arms as they guard an infamous prison camp (Bucca, it actually existed) and continuously tormented as well by the "enemy" male prisoners she oversees. In another corner is an Iraqi woman near Kate's age, Naema, whose male relatives get brutally seized by American troops, leaving the family to stand at the prison camp gates with others to plead for news of all the innocent mistreated male family members held there. Be prepared: there is no redemption in this novel for either character or for the reader, no nicey-nice friendship between Kate and Naema that soothes the pain on both sides. No. it's war, baby. Wanna go now?

See Gaga after reading Queen and imagine the anger she would unleash at those gates."

Christine Sylvester,
Professor of Political Science