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Literature profs suggest good 'winter reads'

Warding off cabin fever

Literature profs suggest good books to ward off cabin fever.

By Adam Pulchinski, Free Press Correspondent [published in The Free Press, Mankato, MN, 9/8/2011]

As summer winds down and the weather turns colder, many Minnesotans will be trading in outdoor activities for those that can be done fireside. With six months of cabin fever-inducing indoor activities ahead of us, it’s time to get your reading list prepared.

Candace Black, English professor at Minnesota State Mankato, has a few suggestions for good reads, and has some tips as to the types of books readers might want to try tackling.:

  • “An Intimate Look at the Night Sky,” by Chet Raymo: Raymo, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College, writes a weekly column, "Science Musings," for the Boston Globe, "writes lyrically about the universe,” Black said. “Essays about stars, planets and the universe’s origin and probable end are elegant, compelling and thought-provoking.”
  • “Annals of the Former World,” by John McPhee: “I would recommend any book by John McPhee, my favorite nonfiction writer, but I suggest this to balance Raymo’s look at the cosmos,” said Black. “He writes clearly, and with a dry wit, about geology and the fascinating people he meets while doing his research.”
  • “War and Peace,” by Tolstoy; “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; “Leaves of Grass,” by Walt Whitman; or Seamus Heaney’s translation of “Beowulf.” Winter is a good time to tackle a BIG book, Black says.
  • “So Long, See You Tomorrow,” by William Maxwell: After you finish a big book, you might want to read a small novel. “It’s very quiet, heartbreaking and exquisite.”
  • Anything by Jane Austen, Bill Holm, P.D. James, Jon Hassler, Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Octavia Butler or E. B. White: Take advantage of winter’s long nights by catching up with your favorite writer, Black said.

Donna Casella is another professor at Minnesota State Mankato, in the film studies program. She also teaches literature classes and claims to “snarf” books, especially in the summer. She said one is always a classic, one contemporary fiction or non-fiction, and one is either science fiction, fantasy or mystery/detection.

  • Nathaniel Philbrick: “Nathaniel Philbrick brings history to life in non-fiction books,” Casella said. “I first read his ‘Mayflower’ a few years ago, and on a friend’s recommendation picked up ‘In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex,’ the ship on which Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ was based." She's now reading "The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull, and the Battle of the Little Bighorn."
  • “The Places in Between,” by Rory Stewart: Casella also loves books about people who walk. “Rory Stewart wrote an intriguing book about his 32-day solo trek across Afghanistan. I couldn’t put it down.”
  • “Small Island,” by Andrea Levy: Levy won the Orange Prize for "Island." “It is a beautifully written book about people who celebrate ‘difference,’ and those who don’t,” Casella said.
  • “Purple Hibiscus,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Shortlisted for the Orange Prize, the story is told through the eyes of a young girl growing up during political strife in post-colonial Nigeria.
  • Donna Leon: Casella, like Black, suggests fixating on a specific author. “You read Leon’s books not so much for the ‘Who dun it?’ as for the characters.”

For the complete Free Press story -- including winter read lists by KMSU-FM host Tim Lind and North Mankato Taylor Library director Lucy Lowry, see Thursday's Free Press print edition, or go to the e-edition at

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