Jane Kanter is an undergraduate at UIUC, currently spending her junior year in Senegal.
I am an all-opportunity reader—I enjoy nonfiction as well as novels, and layman’s science books as well as history. I’m a Global Studies major, with interest in sustainable agriculture and agricultural policy, so I read a fair amount on agriculture and social studies of agriculture for my classes and research. Currently, I’m in the process of organizing the library at Agrecol Afrique, the NGO where I’m doing an internship. It’s mostly agricultural manuals and books on organic agriculture and management of NGOs—sadly, a lot of it’s in English, which most of the other employees aren’t fluent in, so it’s of limited use. Putting it in order allows me to do a bit of skimming of titles and figure out what might be useful for my research as well.
I received a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas a few years back, a welcome present for a traveler who reads quickly and often. This year especially, when every ounce must count for my travels, I was glad to be able to bring a lot of books without filling a suitcase. I’ve loaded it with a good blend of literature, nonfiction, and a bit of paperback-type sci-fi as well.
I’m spread out between several books right now—I prefer to juggle between a few different topics rather than commit to one. Currently in-progress on my Kindle are the French edition of Albert Camus’s L’Etranger (The Stranger), Madhu Vishwanathan’s Subsistence Marketplaces (the textbook for an online course which I ended up dropping, but I’ve found very educational, living in the midst of such economies), the Bible (which I’m marching through as an exercise in education about my own culture), The Transformation of American Agriculture (a book on the general state of corn and farm policy in the US right now) and a novel.
For October, I thought it would be good to find a horror novel or ghost story to read. Though I am long fan of horror, ghost stories, and tales of monsters (much to my parents’ chagrin, as I frequently bit off more than I could chew and had nightmares), I have a lot of trouble with it as a genre, which tends to be dominated by male characters and writers, not to mention rather sexist or misogynistic tropes. After doing a bit of research via Goodreads and some reading blogs, I settled on Caitlin R. Kiernan’s The Drowning Girl. I’m very glad I did, as even though I’m only halfway through it, I’m sure it’s going to become a favorite of mine.
The Drowning Girl is a very unconventional narrative, told by Imp, a young schizophrenic artist, through notes on her typewriter that she insists she is writing down only for herself. I appreciate that unlike in many stories, Imp’s mental illness is not revealed as a mark of her unreliability at the climax (indeed, she states it outright in the first chapter), or romanticized, or demonized – it simply is, as a way of showing how she interprets the world and the events around her. She weaves a rich web of stories about family struggles with mental illness, mermaids, fairy tales, and art – the title is a reference to a painting that the narrator is obsessed with. And as to my earlier complaint about gender in horror, the story is wholly female-driven (Imp was raised by her mother, aunts, and grandmother, and her partner is a transsexual woman), and all in all it’s a very wonderful addition to the genre.
So there you have it. Ghosts, farming, French, and spirituality – the reading list of a young person figuring things out.