Saturday, December 22, 2012

Victoria Emma Pagán

Victoria Emma Pagán is Professor of Classics at the University of Florida. Her books include A Sallust Reader, Rome and the Literature of Gardens, and Conspiracy Narratives in Roman History. She also edited the Companion to Tacitus.

Pagán's new book is Conspiracy Theory in Latin Literature.

Earlier this month I asked the author what she was reading. Pagán's reply:
The University of Florida Honors College sponsors an “Uncommon Reading” program, in which faculty can propose to read a book with interested students. I recently re-read Anna Karenina with a group of nineteen women; we finished just in time for a field trip to see the new movie starring Kiera Knightly. After twenty years, I still find the novel compelling and morally baffling. This time, at least, Oblonsky was my favorite character because he is so consistently true to himself. Not a duplicitous bone in his body: he’s worthless and he knows it. Would that all worthless louts were so forthcoming.

In preparation for a three-week trip across South Africa in Summer 2012, I read Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom. I love autobiographies because they test a writer’s ethics. I’m the world’s most suspicious reader, and I love trying to figure out when an autobiographer is fudging the truth about himself or his circumstances. In spite of Mandela’s remarkable story and his life of probity and integrity, there are places where I found myself wondering whether he was telling the whole truth. A memoir of a different order is Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul. Though I’ve never been and I would surely appreciate the book differently if I had, still I reveled in the way Pamuk’s poetic language captured the genius of the place.

I once picked up a battered paperback of Cry of the Kalahari by Mark James Owens and Cordelia Dykes Owens at a Friends of the Library Sale in Fernandina Beach, Florida. It is a riveting story in itself—but the ending could be a short story of its own, a study in grief and pathos.

I’m slightly OCD, so when I latch on to a good author, I tend to read his every word: Wallace Stegner, Chaim Potok, J. M. Coetzee. I’m embarrassed to say, I don’t have a favorite woman author. That’s probably very revealing.

Like everyone else, I read Muriel Barbery’s Elegance of the Hedgehog, not least because that fragment of Archilochus is one of my all-time favorites: “The fox knows many tricks. The hedgehog, one. One big one.” I would trade the fourth book of Horace’s Odes for a complete set of Archilochus’ poetry. But that game is so passé.

And like everyone else, I read Michael Pollen’s Omnivore’s Dilemma and ended up with an insatiable craving for roast pork. You are what you read.
Learn more about Conspiracy Theory in Latin Literature at the University of Texas Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue