You Should…Read : In the Heart of the Sea

You should read In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick


If you have ever read or even heard of the novel Moby Dick by Herman Melville; if you have ever had an inkling of interest in New England history; or if you have ever wondered about life at sea and what would happen if you were actually ship-wrecked, then you should read In the Heart of the Sea.


But why read an historical account of the 1820 whale attack on the whaleship Essex and everything that came afterwards when Melville’s Moby Dick is already a classic? Because, in the words of our very own Mark Twain “truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t.”  In the Heart of the Sea tells a story so fantastic, so sensational, that it can only be a work of non-fiction.


But that is not what will keep you turning the pages. What will keep you reading into the wee hours of the night is the way Philbrick describes the harrowing events of what followed for four more months after the Essex crew was shipwrecked. Philbrick provides not only a description of the events, but an account of how the sailors – most of whom eventually perished – physically and psychologically responded to their desperate circumstances, from the extreme thirst and hunger brought on by severe dehydration and starvation, to the crippling fear of knowing that the likelihood any of them being rescued was extremely remote.


Why read In the Heart of the Sea?  Because, quite simply, as a work of non-fiction, it can fill in the details that the classic novel never could.

You Should – Read “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows”

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, by Balli Kaur Jaswal.


One of my Saturday afternoon pleasures is to browse the new fiction section at my local public library.  Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows beckoned even as I was skeptical of yet another immigrant narrative, albeit of a young Sikh woman in London.  But I was in for a hilarious surprise.  Nikki, a Sikh English woman, is a law school dropout and rebel, who tends bar at a dive with sexist Russian coworkers a racist regular, a white Briton.  But against her better judgment, when she visits the gurudwara (a Sikh temple) in Southall to post a matrimonial ad for her prim and obedient older sister that things take an interesting turn.  While there, she sees an ad seeking an English teacher for Punjabi widows at the temple and despite having no teaching experience applies for and gets the job.  Only to find out that the widows, who range from 45-65, have no interest in learning English but in telling explicit and detailed stories about their sexual desires and fantasies. The uproariously funny and poignant stories reveal the complexities and contradictions of gender, immigration, love, sex, age, and violence of both the Punjabi and English communities and the different forms of isolation they experience in each.  Something that many of us are feeling in the US right now.

Balli Jaswal



You Should – See “In Between”

You should see “In Between,” a film currently showing at Real Art Ways in Hartford. It’s a wonderful film about three very different Palestinian women sharing an apartment in Tel Aviv, and the film follows their challenges and triumphs to balance traditional life with modernity. One is a successful attorney, one is a lesbian who works at various jobs (DJ, bartender), and one is a traditional Muslim woman who is finishing her degree in Computer Science and engaged to be married. All of them struggle against patriarchal control, violence and abuse, and imposed limitation, one by her partner, one by her father, and one by her fiancé. The film does a terrific job of destroying the monolithic stereotypes of what it means to be a Palestinian woman (or any woman), showing the great diversity of possibility. And it draws the common lines between these women and women everywhere as we all grapple with the same issues. In the end, sisterhood is powerful, no matter who we are!

You SHOULD…Read “The Power”

You should read Naomi Alderman’s The Power.


In which women suddenly develop the ability to overpower men by projecting electrical currents from their hands. This causes a revolution in gender relations and, eventually, world politics. Men are at first puzzled, then alarmed, and finally subjugated.


The bio-mechanics are easily understood – women develop a sheet of muscle across the collarbone, known as a skein, and the power comes from there. But no one can quite figure out what caused the skeins to grow. The best guess is it has something to do with chemical pollution, the detritus of mankind’s wars and industry, seeping into the water table.


Alderman’s fiction is a sort of inverted Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood mentored the writer), and asks some profound questions about human nature. The inhabitants of Alderman’s new world have little nostalgia for the old; they remember what it was like to live in the patriarchy. But her vision is bleak. She suggests that power has the same dynamics, regardless of who holds it. Why do powerful people do bad things, she asks? Because they can.



You SHOULD…Host a Carpool Karaoke

We all spend so much of our days “in our heads” with thoughts of work, fascinating projects, and the world around us.  Often, when I get into the sanctuary that is my own car, I am able to release some of the pressure of the day by tuning into music that awakens my inner Katy Perry, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Queen Elsa, ___________________(you fill in the blank)  and lyrics that transport me to someplace other than here.  I am in awe of the creativity and amazing talent of others on this human journey.  And the best part is, performing in my own little Honda bubble is so much FUN!  You should give yourself permission to be “that crazy person” in the next car over (you’ll only be seen for a fleeting moment at the stop light!)

I encourage you join me and to immerse yourself in something otherworldly, if only for a song or two!

-Jo-Ann Waide, Program Assistant for UCHI

You SHOULD…Watch Battlestar Galactica


You should… sample widely.  More on this in a second, but if I have to foreground a single recommendation it’s this: the new Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009). In some of the tightest, most compelling storytelling I’ve ever seen on film, this series asks profound questions about belief, belonging, sentience, servitude, family, survival, politics, power, responsibility, and war.  It explores an epochal confrontation between humankind and the increasingly sentient AI creatures of its own making.  It’s The Odyssey of our time crossed with Paradise Lost. It asks what is civilization, why does it matter, and what are its costs.


The “Humanities Lived” project is testament to the virtues of sampling, but to me this is an ethic. In this spirit here is a list: The Tales of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo (a so-called “children’s” book); The Epic of Gilgamesh, an early story about how knowledge and narrative are connected; Claude Lelouch’s La Bonne Année, a romp of a heist film, but among the more thoughtful feminist movies to have been made in the 1970s; Hugh Anderson, Drone: Remote Control Warfare (this book covers the practicalities and ethics of a subject we should all understand better); Martin Grey’s For Those I Loved, an astonishing autobiography about endurance, love, and the Holocaust; Roberto Calasso’s The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, a haunting reconsideration of Greek Mythology; and given the times in which we live, the United States Constitution.


You SHOULD: Listen to Three Soundtracks By Jennifer Lease Butts

I confess I have procrastinated with this assignment, though I was excited and honored to be asked. I’ve felt squeamish sharing what you “should” listen to or look at or read. I realized my reaction comes from two places. First, I typically seek recommendations rather than give them. Second, as someone with a doctorate in Counseling and Human Development, “should” statements are generally things to be avoided. So, I’d like to offer a twist on this assignment; rather than recommending “what” you should choose to bring the Humanities into your life, I’d like to suggest “how” you should do it.


First – multitask. I listened to three soundtracks – Immortal Beloved, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, The Last of the Mohicans – while studying for comprehensive examinations and writing my dissertation. I could feel myself coming up for air sometimes and I’d relax into familiar melodies and percussions, breathe deeply, and dive back down into work. I read multiple books at the same time because I like the juxtaposition and can pick what I read based on my mood.


Second – connect with the past. History is about context and the human condition. As a history major I learned you must seek differing perspectives. I’m currently reading my second book about the history of my new hometown because place and belonging are important to me. I also love to re-read books. Beyond the cozy feeling of reconnecting with old friends, I learn how I’ve changed since the last time I read the book.


Third – connect with others. My favorite time of day is reading to my son at night. We are reading all of the Harry Potter books as a family. We take turns reading them aloud (we’re on Order of the Phoenix, a favorite!). We ask him how the characters feel, what words mean, and we talk about good and evil, light and dark, and the importance of magic and believing in it. We want him to be a good reader and have a good vocabulary and all those parental things. But mostly we want him to learn about himself through empathizing with others. It’s perhaps the most important thing we can teach him right now given the current state of our world.


My honors student self wouldn’t be fully satisfied, though, if I didn’t actually answer the question. So here you go: If it’s music – try Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas or Ralph Vaughn Williams for relaxation; Beethoven for studying and concentration; Foo Fighters or Silversun Pickups to rock out. Art? Art is what you like; go outside and find beauty in simple things. Literature – Jane Austen is always the answer. I have a mug on my desk emblazoned with Mrs. Darcy and a tiny book entitled “What Would Jane Austen Do?” Both are quite useful at work. Whatever you do, find time to engage, connect, and feed your soul with the Humanities. That’s a “should” I feel quite comfortable telling you.

You SHOULD…Read:The Outermost House by Matthew McKenzie


People should read, or re-read, Henry Beston’s 1928 classic, The Outermost House. Set among the dunes of outer Cape Cod, Beston’s essay traces a year of changing seasons, visiting coastal species, and mild reflections on modern life. Since its publication, the book has emerged as a principle contribution to the canon of American nature writing.
With Americans at each others throats, and vandals disassembling the pillars of American civilization for their own private gains, why should anyone read this ninety-year-old book?

Well, I see a few reasons. First and foremost, its beautifully written, and we need beauty now more than ever. Beston was born to a French Canadian mother and Irish father who met, married, and settled down in the US. He grew up fluent in both French and English, and after volunteering to fight in World War I, spent a few years kicking around France and teaching at the Sorbonne. During that time, Beston began developing a writing style that wove into his prose the cadences and tonalities of verse. When applied to the rhythms of surf, sand, sea, and sky, his style musically brings out the cyclicality and beauty of non-human life.

Which raises the second reason people should read it. If ever there was a time when we need to step out of the chaos of human concerns, this is it. Contemporary nature writing has a reputation—earned or not—for self-indulgence. In the worst instances, the non-human world provides merely a foil for authors’ lyrical flourishes and introspections that, frankly, I can’t stand. Beston has none of that. His focus is the world around him, not thoughts within him. His relationship to his coastal environs emerges clearly in his writing, to be sure. But he is most concerned with the natural cycles that humans don’t follow, the environmental changes we rarely see, and the calmness that living according to those clocks brings.
Indeed, in re-reading this book this term, I found that Beston removed the noise of modern life. In it’s place, he highlighted the sounds that keep us connected to the real world. He reminded me that American-ness is more defined through our relationship to our non-human world, than through the inanities of day to day distractions, diversions, and diatribes. From the cacophony he brought out the symphony—and it’s a sound we all could use more of.

Matthew McKenzie
Associate Professor, History, American Studies, and Maritime Studies

You SHOULD…Read: The Adivasi Will Not Dance By Debanuj DasGupta

You must read The Adivasi Will Not Dance, a collection of ten short stories by Hansda Sowendra Shekhar, winner of the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar, 2015 (The National India Academy of Letters Award, 2015). Shekhar collected stories of Santhal tribes (scheduled tribes of India are pre-nation state indigenous communities) while working as a medical officer in a remote part of the Jharkhand state, a newly formed state in India with large Santhal population. Each story reveals the territorial interstices of Santhali life in India. The third story November is the Month of Migrations is a brutal, raw, and harsh description of how Talami (a young Santhal girl) had to exchange sexual favors with a police officer in return of two cold breads and Rs 50.00 (90 cents). Santhali community members called the story pornographic and burnt effigies of Sowendra Shekhar. In response to the protests, the Jharkhand government has banned the book. As I sat in the early September warm breeze in my Storrs-Masfield backyard and leafed through the bright turquoise blue covers, Sowendra’s writing transposed me into the forests of West-Bengal and Jharkhand (where I grew up & often traveled on winter vacations to the Santhal areas). The stories narrate struggles of Mangla Murmu the troupe-master of a performing group who would not dance for the President of India and is brutally beaten down on the ground, while another one narrates the story of Bikram-Kumang who is asked to hide his Santhali roots by his Hindu upper-caste landlord. The book will take you on a journey of indigenous communities in India, and reveals how generations of Indian tribes live with the ravages of colonization.

You SHOULD…Confront Racism in the Digital Realm

“You Should…Confront Racism in the Digital Realm”


A teach-in moderated by Professor Anke Finger and featuring Professors Kelly Dennis, Anne Mae Duane, Bhakti Shringarpure and Ph.D. candidate Matt Guariglia.


The “You Should…” pulls from a new program UCHI started to make the humanities more personal and urgent ( and “Confront Racism” is the theme of the Metanoia this year.


Join us for a dialogue about social media activism/racism (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and online racism, online activism and connections to civil responsibility, courage, and action— basically the potential and pitfalls, in other words, of our life online. How does one recognize and take action against racism online? Are there tools or methods that have been effective? Can we use social media for cultural change?


Nov 8, noon – 2pm, UCHI Conference Room


For more on UConn’s 2017 Metanoia see: (