Recently Professor Christina Root caught up with Emeritus Professor Carey Kaplan to talk about what she has been reading since her retirement from the English Department last May.
Knowing what a voracious reader on a wide range of subjects Carey has always been, I was interested to find out how retirement might be changing her habits and tastes. I started with that question.
Carey: I have been reading European history for the past year or so. Although my field is eighteenth-century British literature, I find many lacunae in my knowledge, especially of European history from, say, 1650 to 1950. I have been especially interested in the interplay among various countries of religion, politics, scientific developments, and literature. When you study one country and one period intensively, as I have done with Great Britain, it is easy to narrow one’s focus and to neglect complex inter-relationships among cultures. Learning more about Russia, about the establishment of the German and Italian states, and about the Ottoman Empire has broadened my knowledge base and permitted new perspectives I didn’t have previously. I also find social history fascinating and have read a bunch of books on daily life in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This interest is not new, but now I have time to indulge it more thoroughly.
Christina: How about fiction? Have you continued to be drawn to novels?
Carey: My reading of fiction has not been extensive this year. I just finished, following your recommendation, Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs, which I enjoyed both because it is elegantly written and deals with the complicated life of a mature, educated, single woman–a topic rather scanted in literature until the 21st century. I also reread Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady along with Michael Gorra’s wonderful Portrait of a Novel: The Making of an American Masterpiece. James protagonist, Isabel Archer, is another independent woman struggling to define herself. Alice Munro is another writer I love. Once again, her complicated, often mature women characters along with her miraculous writing keep me coming back again and again.
Christina: Can you describe the role reading plays in your life?
Carey: There is nothing I enjoy more than reading. I cannot imagine my life without books. I read for knowledge and self-knowledge and for pure pleasure. Since I retired, I have noticed myself thinking that I may not have time to read on such and such a day. Then I realize that I have time to read what I want when I want most of the time. I feel a surge of joy at the knowledge. My reading has always been eclectic to a degree. I love British murder mysteries, the twee-er the better. I am a P.G. Wodehouse fanatic. I love biographies, memoirs, history, natural history, gardening books, cook books, short stories, novels. I am most at home with British writers but am capable of reading African, Asian and other literatures. You know how I feel about Proust. I read at least a volume a year. About a year ago I read about 20 of Trollope’s novels one right after the other for weeks and weeks. I read The New Yorker every week, the Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, People, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping and a bunch more that are really embarrassing.
Christina: The English Department misses you egregiously, for all the things about you that this short exchange makes abundantly evident.