Thursday, June 18, 2015

Conevery Bolton Valencius

Conevery Bolton Valencius is an associate professor in the Department of History and also affiliated faculty of the School for the Environment at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

She is the author of The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes.

Not so long ago I asked Valencius about what she was reading. Her reply:
I read in the course of my research as an American historian, I read for my own pleasure and my own soul, and I read as part of a family. Now that we are through with a spring semester made grueling in Boston by seven feet of snow and nearly a month of missed school, I am having a great time with all three.

In my research, I’m interested in the history and technology of fracking. Right now I’m learning from the vivid writing and observation in Gregory Zuckerman’s The Frackers and the historical insights of Brian Frehner’s Finding Oil: The Nature of Petroleum Geology, 1859-1920.

In August, I get to travel to Mumbai, India to visit Ummeed Child Development Center, a fabulously innovative developmental pediatrics clinic I’ve been privileged to see grow over the past decade and a half. In preparation, I’m reading recent award-winning Indian fiction, starting with Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger and Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss.

For our family of five, reading aloud is a way to survive long car trips—we traverse a good chunk of North America each summer, and simply getting across the length of Tennessee is daunting—and a way to find common ground, common humor, and shared time. The Discworld novels of Terry Pratchett are imaginative, funny, full of action, and accessible across many levels of experience, vocabulary, and teenage cynicism. In the best of his books, Pratchett wrestles with fears, hopes, and moral compass in ways that move me to the core. We’ve been reading the novels featuring hard-bitten police commander Sam Vimes (just now starting Feet of Clay), but I once talked myself into a job largely on the strength of Pratchett’s Going Postal. Pratchett’s four-part Tiffany Aching series is an immensely powerful story of growing up girl. Plus, it has small blue fairy-men that fight, drink whiskey, steal sheep, and have accents so hilarious that a child of mine once laughed milk out his nose at a roadside restaurant listening to his daddy read in their voices. Wee Free Men, the first in the series, now tops my list of books to give any young teenager within reach—along with Michelle Tea’s new, luminous Mermaid in Chelsea Creek.

When my husband and I are too tired from chores and kid-herding to think straight, we read aloud. We courted and built a family reading the Harry Potter books as fast as J.K. Rowling wrote them; the Aubrey-Maturin seafaring novels of Patrick O’Brian (the “Master & Commander” series) kept us sailing smooth despite a stretch of high winds. We’ve recently been on a noir bend, most recently with Raymond Chandler’s The High Window and The Lady in the Lake. Dialogue that zings coolly by, insights that sting, and shady nighttime intrigue: as summer heat lowers down upon us, these books offer pleasure cool as a martini!
Read more about The Lost History of the New Madrid Earthquakes.

--Marshal Zeringue