Thursday, July 16, 2009

Michael A. Elliott

Michael A. Elliott is professor of English and American Studies at Emory University. He writes about the literature and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth century United States, with particular interest in American traditions of historical commemoration. He is also a contributing editor at, where he writes about the place of the sacred in otherwise secular spaces. His most recent book is Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer.

Recently, I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
During the summer, I usually try to read some long fiction, both contemporary and not. This summer I started with Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady, which I had not read since I was a graduate student. James is a writer whose talent I appreciate more every year, and I found myself rereading his long paragraphs just to think about his methods of characterization. I remembered this as a gripping novel, but I think it reads very differently now that I am a little older and, well, a little more married.

Mark Jude Porier’s novels are a delicious treat for me, and so I keep an eye out for anything that he blurbs. That is how I ended up reading The Cardboard Universe: A Guide to the World of Poebus K. Dank, by Christopher Miller. The novel is a kind of Pale Fire for the sci fi set. Written as a kind of literary encyclopedia of a prolific (but awful) science fiction novelist -- loosely modeled on Philip K. Dick -- the book is both a satire of and a love letter to the genre. Any science fiction reader with a sense of humor should have it on the shelf. As an aside, I have been reading Dick sporadically over the last five years, and just acquired the Library of America compilations of his works to read as well.

Like so many others, I have been meaning to read David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest for years. And like so many others, his recent, unfortunate death has provoked me to do so this summer. I am about half way through the novel right now, and words are insufficient. Tennis. Drugs. Quebec. There’s really nothing else I can say about it right now.

Finally, one of my reading rituals at this point in my life occurs just before the reluctant slumber of my five-year-old son. Recently, we finished reading The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. This is a beautiful book in every way possible. Hugo Cabret is an orphan living in a Paris train station in the early twentieth century, and he meets a mysterious toy seller who gradually draws him into the world of early, silent film. But the plot is only part of the achievement of the book, which has a format that is different from anything else that I have read with my son. Some pages of Hugo Cabret have text, and others advance the narrative through enchanting black-and-white drawings. Unlike other illustrated books, the words do not accompany the images, and the illustrations do not visually reproduce the action that the text describes. The format alone makes Hugo Cabret a special reading experience, and it was a real pleasure to observe my son as he switched from hearing me read the story to looking carefully at the illustrations. It is a book about film and magic that manages to be both filmic and magical.
Read an excerpt from Custerology and learn more about the book at the University of Chicago Press website.

Learn more about Michael A. Elliott's scholarship at his faculty webpage.

The Page 99 Test: Custerology.

--Marshal Zeringue