October 2014 English Major of the Month
Stephen SuttonYear in school: Senior
As a new CLS Fellow, are there any authors you are particularly eager to meet/invite/hear read?|
The major CLS even this semester is featuring Maureen McLane, who is actually a professor at NYU as well as an accomplished poet. One of the huge reasons I came to NYU was that so many of the professors here are poets and fictionists as well as critics and academics. I write fiction myself, so the fact that so many people here are able to blend their academic lives with their creative lives (not that the two are separate, but that’s a whole different question) is encouraging and exciting for me. All that to say, I’m excited for that reading.
What books have you read multiple times? Did you re-read out of compulsion? Assignment? What was the difference between each subsequent reading?
Those that immediately come to mind are the Harry Potter series, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and Infinite Jest. Back before Harry Potter ended, I would reread the books before every book and movie release, and then after the series ended I reread them every year because I missed rereading them. One of the tattoos I mention in question 4 is in reference to Harry Potter. A Heartbreaking Work is a book I reread often because it’s The Book that made me interested in literature. It’s hilarious and really favors those who reread it because so many of the jokes go under the radar. I’ve read Infinite Jest only twice, but the reason I reread it is mostly that there’s no point in reading it if you read it only once. You could probably say the same thing about reading it twice, though.
What English courses have been particularly rewarding (which may indicate difficult)? How did they reward?
Last semester I took a class that focused entirely on James Baldwin, and the readings and discussions in that class really had an impact on me. That is the first class that I actually feel like I changed as a person as well as a thinker. It really made me stare my straight-white-maleness in the face in a way that made me uncomfortable in a necessary sort of way. I can say with utter sincerity that reading Baldwin in depth made me a better person.
What are your thoughts on literary tattoos? Do you have any (thoughts on tattoos or tattoos themselves)? Do you want any?
Well, I have seven tattoos, and three of those are direct allusions to books (and one to a film), so I’d have to say I am pro-literary tattoos. My opinion on tattoos is that if you want it on your body, get it on your body. Some people are opposed to any kind of referential tattoo because “what if you stop liking that thing?” but, theoretically, you get a tattoo of something because it has a meaning beyond just “I like that,” and unless your worldview does a complete flip, those meanings don’t really mitigate. So even if I turn 45 and decide A Heartbreaking Work is a total gimmick and I hate it, the book still made me in part who I am so probably I won’t remove the stapler tattoo I have. Anyway, tattoos are immensely personal decisions and anyone should get whatever tattoo they want.
Have you memorized any poems or passages of prose? If so, which and why?
I certainly have, but I’ve been sitting here for a few minutes and it seems like the only bits I can still recall are from Hamlet’s soliloquies, which I memorized for a Shakespearean acting class I took last year. Besides that, I have memorized and forgotten “If” by Rudyard Kipling (for Brit Lit II) and a few random Shakespeare sonnets (because I was a romantic nerd in high school).
Do you have a favorite place or time to read? A favorite reading outfit?
Since coming to NYU and devoting all of my time to reading, any preferences I used to have toward reading have dissipated. I never had a reading outfit, but I would often have a cup of tea or lie in bed or sit out in my backyard. As my fellow English majors probably understand, when you have to read hundreds of pages a week, you read pretty much all the time regardless of where you are.
Any authors/works you find to be particularly overrated? Underrated?
My creative writing professor asked us this question on our first day this semester, so I’ll recycle that answer. I think Dave Eggers’ more recent stuff has been hugely disappointing, especially The Circle. It was boring, unoriginal, and poorly edited. My roommate likes to say it broke his heart watching me read that book. As far as underrated, maybe This Side of Paradise? Gatsby pretty much overshadows everything else Fitzgerald wrote, which is a bummer because Paradise is a great first novel and I really identified with it in high school.
Any characters from literature that you'd ask to prom? Invite on a coffee date? Punch upon seeing them?
I think Hamlet for all three.
What is your favorite word?
I have two: vespertine, which means something like “of or related to the evening,” even though Microsoft Word is currently telling me it doesn’t exist. Palatial is also beautiful, and it means “very large and impressive,” or “like a palace” if you prefer your definitions a bit circular.
What was the last novel, short story, poem or play that made you cry -- if not cry than moved you profoundly?
Anyone who has asked me for a book recommendation in the past couple months is going to roll their eyes because I recommend this literally any chance I get, but Nobody is Ever Missing by Catherine Lacey. I met Lacey at a reading at McNally Jackson and I told her that finishing her book made me want to curl up in a ball on the floor. She thanked me, so I think she got it.