Forbidden Love: The Books English Professors Secretly Love

Sometimes people are surprised by this, but writers and English professors and scholars love all kinds of books. To celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, here are some love letters you might not have expected from our faculty and some Valentine’s Day guests.


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I met Jack Reacher on November 9, 2016. I was alone. Restless. Wandering the aisles of a supermarket. I needed something to stop my mind from racing. Then Jack appeared. He was alone too, of course.
We don’t have much in common, but I like Jack. He hates the bad guys. Nazis, white supremacists, corrupt millionaires. The guys who’d torture a kid to make a point. Or a buck. The bad guys bother me a lot. Jack feels the same.
“Isn’t it just a hard-boiled thriller?” someone asked.
I said nothing.
“I thought you hated action heroes?”
I shrugged. And walked away.

Greg Eiselein, Donnelly Professor of English and University Distinguished Teaching Scholar

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During my first year in college, my best friend lent me a copy of A Density of Souls, the debut novel by Christopher Rice—yes, he is the son of famed Vampire Chronicles writer Anne Rice. If my recollection is correct, it is the first novel I read that centered on a gay male character. Although I had come out as gay in high school, I still was learning about how to be gay so to speak and was starting to explore claiming a queer identity. I related to character Stephen Conlin’s experiences with high school bullying at the hands of childhood friends as well as his transition into young adulthood with all the trappings of clandestine romance for those of us trying to find each other in a heteronormative world. Rice’s intricate weaving of old New Orleanian family dramas, illicit affairs, and tragic death motivated me to continue reading. While the story exposed the violence of toxic masculinity and its multifaceted effect on the lives of victims, perpetrators, and their families, it also provided a glimmer of the possibility of queer love. A Density of Souls is I book that I secretly love, not because I am ashamed to have read it, but because it is a book that I am quite fond of but have not publicly acknowledged until now—so I guess the secret is out.

Tom Sarmiento, Assistant Professor

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In grad school, my friends seemed to all have an author they read comprehensively. One had a shelf devoted to Faulkner, another to Roth. Melville, Hemingway, and Shakespeare were unsurprisingly popular, as were Hornby and Irving. When I commented on this, a fellow grad student looked at me pityingly and said that I “just hadn’t found my author yet.” The comment stung—the implication was that I hadn’t read enough or that I lacked a certain reverence. My reading was broad, perhaps even scattered, and though I tried to claim it as a point of pride that I didn’t fall victim to one siren influence, I couldn’t help but wonder if I should.

Later that year while packing my shelves for a move, I found my stack of P.D. James detective novels. The spines were broken from repeated readings. I had them all, a collection that started with An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. It had been a Christmas present from my aunt when I was twelve and far too young to be reading such visceral scenes, and I had packed it along with me ever since, adding more titles as I went. James’s murders were dark and complex. She described them in unflinching detail, the prose almost Victorian in its lush density. Her detective was a poet, her victims suffered, and her murderers were not always captured or punished. I knew my fellow grad students would not approve of my author. They didn’t have to. My shelf was not dedicated to the lauded white men that lined their shelves, but to a generically marginalized woman unafraid of looking death in the face and writing every detail. She, too, was unsuitable, and I loved her for it.

Siân Griffiths, Associate Professor, Weber State University

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Steven Gould’s novel Jumper should be in rotation on sci-fi syllabi as often as Ender’s Game. Sure, you might say my admiration is shameful in a book that had Paladins (named as such, because, why not?) who hunted Jumpers. Where a dude believed in the power of love and pulled half a house through a portal of inconsistency. Where it gave the most intriguing backstory to its most underutilized character. Except, you know, NONE OF THAT IS IN THE FREAKING BOOK! THAT’S THE MOVIE!

Before you ask…yes. I do know how moot it is to try and sway you. I’ve told people far too often that, You’re thinking of the movie, or, Well, yeah, they both teleport but the mechanics are different in the book, and even, it’s a character story, a work of science fiction that never trades on its narrative strength for gimmickry.  I also know that, while I legit found Hayden Christensen to be the least of the movie Jumper’s atrocities, his touch has yet again ruined something I loved.

Charlie J. Eskew, Author

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I can’t get enough of gay detectives. It started with Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter series. Hansen’s a great writer, and the series chronicles the evolution of gay life—and Los Angeles—because he wrote from 1970 t0 1990. Also, Brandstetter avoids every stereotype but is gay through and through. There’s nothing to keep secret about loving Hansen. So, I’ll choose Richard Stevenson’s Don Strachey novels—all 11 of them. But especially Strachey’s Folly, the one where he discovers a memorialized friend on the AIDS quilt is not actually dead, and then gets embroiled in all kinds of Washington insider politics. Strachey’s not above sleeping with somebody to get information. He’s wry, self-effacing, and arrogant. He loves to take down the rich and corrupt. He’s really good at tricking people. And he’s always got a great comeback. Richardson’s writing is just fine. It is not gorgeous or particularly distinctive. It’s plain. But you asked for a book I love. I read way worse gay detective novels. I enjoy those but don’t love them. I do love the Strachey books. And I have a crush on Strachey, let’s face it.

Jason Tougaw, Associate Professor, Queens College, CUNY

 

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I LOVE the Raven Boys cycle: four books by Maggie Stiefvater.
The only non-psychic in her family of bad-ass chicks, Blue (real name) finds herself entangled with the prep school boys she thought she despised, traipsing all over the state with them in the search of a long dead Welsh king they’re hoping to resurrect. There are also ghosts, hit men, a magic forest, and a prophesy that Blue will kill her true love with a kiss. And somehow, it’s all completely and totally believable . . . and totally addictive.
Abby Knoblauch, Associate Professor

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