Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Christine Kenneally

Christine Kenneally is a journalist and author who has written for The New Yorker, the New York Times, Slate and New Scientist, as well as other publications.

Her book, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, was published in hardback by Viking in 2007 and is now available in paperback from Penguin. Before becoming a reporter, she received a Ph.D. in linguistics from Cambridge University and a B.A. (Hons) in English and Linguistics from Melbourne University.

Late last month I asked her what she was reading. Her reply:
I recently finished The Other Side of Sadness by George Bonanno, a book about the anatomy of grief that I reviewed for DoubleX. One of the interesting parts of the book that I couldn't fit into my review was that Bonnano writes about situations where another person's death set someone free--at least on the emotional level. In each case, a conflicted relationship ended with the death of one person, and that death somehow unlocked the mental chains that the other person carried within them. I'm still thinking about this, and I'd like to explore it further. What on earth does it mean? We are all so used to the idea that our emotional lives are ours to create, that we can all talk, or meditate, or medicate our way to complete self-determination. Even if we were subjected to trauma as children, we resolutely believe that our mental well being is in our own hands. But in Bonanno's stories, the key to someone's sense of their own freedom was held by someone else. I've never seen any research on this, and I'm not even sure if this topic is taboo. Are we worried that if we talk about the positive side-effects of another person's death, some may try to hasten it? Is it just too hurtful to contemplate? I don't know yet, but I'm going to start looking into it.

I am also slowly working my way through Richard Klein's The Human Career. It's a textbook that lays out how humans became humans. It was recommended by another scientist who does not agree with a number of Klein's ideas but who nevertheless said that Klein's book was 'the book' to read for a solid grounding in the biological evolution of the human race.

For pure pleasure (not that the previous books don't involve pleasure), I have a number of books open on the nightstand. I've been reading Tad Friend's Cheerful Money. The book is about Friend's WASPy family history, an alien (to me) but fascinating group. Friend is a particularly entertaining writer who cleverly weaves close character study and family biography with an account of a never to-be-repeated-moment in American history.

Two other books that I have been leafing through with great delight are coincidentally both written by friends who used to be my neighbours. The first is Caleb Crain's chapbook, The Wreck of the Henry Clay, a compilation of essays and post from his blog, Steamboats Are Ruining Everything. Caleb writes with inimitable intelligence about wildly diverse topics, like Tarantino's Kill Bill, Emily Dickinson's dashes, outstanding Italian arrest warrants for C.I.A. agents, and Emerson, exhumation, and vampires.

The other book, Heavy Rotation: Twenty Writers on the Albums That Changed Their Lives is the brainchild of editor Peter Terzian. There are so many wistful and sad and beautiful pieces in this book! Finally, I'm reading another nonfiction book for an upcoming review. I can't say what it is right now, but it involves explosions, eruptions, and completely horrifying weather.
The Page 99 Test: Christine Kenneally's The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language.

Read more about Kenneally's journalism and The First Word at her website.

--Marshal Zeringue