Spring 2014: Dr. Martha Pereszlenyi-Pinter, Associate Professor of French and Department Chair
I recently taught an “IC,” International Cultures course in English entitled “Food in Film and Culture: The Global Gendered Table.” While I attempted to demonstrate to my students that while eating is biological and cultural as well as personal and political, it is also normal to connect ourselves to a particular country, region, landscape, economy, and producer. And, the simple act of eating can reveal interconnections among so many diverse aspects of society and the environment. But in the 21st century, the “globalization” of food production is a topic that should interest anyone interested in a “greener” world in a larger context, and how to live a healthy as well as a longer life in a personal context.
I myself became engrossed in reading numerous books on the topic of “food,” but in general, if I were to pick only one author, I would recommend any books by MICHAEL POLLAN. The first book that launched him into becoming a New York Times bestselling author and one of the most trusted food experts in America was The Botany of Desire, for which the documentary film version was shown numerous times on PBS stations. Everyone knows about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: the bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In The Botany of Desire, Pollan demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. Pollan’s Botany of Desire received the Borders Original Voices Award for the best nonfiction work of 2001 and was recognized as a best book of the year by the American Booksellers Association and Amazon, and the national bestsellers
In his next book, In Defense of Food. An Eater’s Manifesto, Pollan attempts to answer the question: “What food is in our food?” Pollan also claims that where we are consuming food today — in the car, in front of the TV, and increasingly alone — is not really “eating”. Instead of food, we’re consuming “edible foodlike substances.”
Finally, in his most recent book, Cooked. A Natural History of Transformation (2013), Pollan argues that when corporations process our food we not only consume large quantities of fat, sugar, and salt, we also disrupt our essential link to the natural world, and weaken our relationships with family and friends
Pollan is also the Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley. His writing on food and agriculture has won numerous awards, including the Reuters/World Conservation Union Global Award in Environmental Journalism, the James Beard Award, and the Genesis Award from the American Humane Association.
So – as Michael Pollan has already said: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Fall 2014: George Bilgere, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Department of English
“By far the best novel I’ve read in the past several years is by thirty-five-year-old London born journalist, Tom Rachman. It’s called The Imperfectionists, and it takes place during the declining days of a failing English-language newspaper in Rome. Each chapter deals with one of the editors or journalists or copy editors who work there and, in keeping with the latest trend in fiction writing, it is a “linked” novel: that is, each of the individual chapters could work as a stand-alone short story. And each chapter ends with a deeply satisfying, sometimes heart-wrenching ending in the manner of O. Henry or Saki. I have rarely in fiction encountered a cast of characters more engaging, interesting, and compellingly human. There’s Lloyd Burko, a long-past-his-prime reporter who will betray even his own son to get one last scoop. There’s Kathleen Solson the hyper-ambitious editor-in-chief, who reacts to the news that her husband is cheating on her by trying to revisit an old romance with a happily married Italian newspaperman. There’s the unforgettable Ruby Zaga, who feels that life has passed her by—and she’s right. It has. All this is set amid the faded, rumpled glamour of Rome, whose atmosphere inflects every scene in a way that recalls Woody Allen’s recent film, Midnight in Paris.
I have recommended this to so many friends I should get a royalty check from Tom Rachman. It’s funny, sad, and so beautifully written I can’t believe its author is only thirty five. When I came to the last chapter I stopped and went back to the beginning and started all over again. I couldn’t bear to see it end.”
Fall 2013: Tom Hayes, Assistant Professor, Department of English
Charles Dickens remains for me one writer whom I can read and reread without tiring, even though many of his novels border the thousand-page category. For Dickens, his favorite novel, or “child” as he put it, was “David Copperfield.” For me, it is “Bleak House.” The cast of characters in the novel shows the range of Victorian society, from the lowest to upper class; Dickens almost seems inspired by a Brueghel canvass. More than anything else, the novel demonstrates delightfully and painfully how England’s class system divides society, a theme certainly touched in Downton Abbey, the current rage on PBS.
For American literature, William Faulkner’s “Light in August” depicts problems of identity, modernity, and race. Faulkner demonstrates in the novel that the past is not the past, the past is present. In the character of Joe Christmas—what a delightful name—Faulkner shows that racial identity, the heritage from slavery, remains the defining characteristic for understanding society in the United States. If class structure defines British society, racial identity defines American culture.”
Summer 2013: Jeanne M. Colleran ’76, Ph.D., dean of John Carroll University’s College of Arts and Sciences
Seated as I am on this three legged stool of professionalism, pontification, and pedantry, I fussed over my selection until my daughter, tired of vetting my choices, said, “Just choose Howard’s End. You’re always going on about how great Margaret Schlegel is.”
After you’ve inhabited Howard’s End, you might move immediately to On Beauty. Written by Zadie Smith in 2005, the book is her homage to Forster’s novel, and it is fun (and maybe a little obnoxious) to point out all the parallels. You don’t really need to read Howard’s End first: On Beauty stands on its own as a comic examination of our own “Big Issues.” Set in New England, Howard (get it?), an English academic, is married to an African American woman, Kiki, and they have three children. Rivalry over landholdings in Forster’s work appears as rivalry over academic standing in Smith’s. Kiki deals with her husband’s insecurity (and more) as well as her three teenagers’ growing pains with the same fortitude that Margaret shows. But with a lot more sass.
Spring 2013: Dr. Andy Welki, Associate Professor of Economics at the Boler School of Business
“My suggestion is “Heroic Leadership” by Chris Lowney. I think the appeal of the book is that it speaks to the leader in all of us and how we can cultivate and develop our personal leadership skills. In addition, the book describes a lot of Jesuit history and famous Jesuits which is beneficial to anyone who has spent time at JCU. Many have heard of St. Ignatius, but the other early Jesuits were equally impressive.”