As Halloween approaches, Rebecca Tannenbaum, professor of next semester’s history class “Witchcraft in Colonial America,” tells us about her essential reads.
1. J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Lord of the Rings”
Yeah, I know it’s geeky, but I love the trilogy and have loved it ever since I first read it at the age of 14. As a meditation on the nature of courage it is unsurpassed, and Tolkien’s gifts as a storyteller and builder of imaginary worlds can’t be duplicated.
2. Margaret Atwood, “Cat’s Eye”
It was hard to pick just one of Atwood’s novels, but this is my favorite. It is the story of how childhood events can continue to echo throughout a person’s life and work, as well as a harrowing description of the potential for cruelty underlying many friendships.
3. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812”
This is the one work of history that has had the most influence on my own research and writing. It is a brilliant analysis of a document other historians had looked at and ignored and an engaging and entertaining book to read.
4. Gregory Maguire, “Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West”
As someone who teaches a course on the history of witchcraft, how could I resist? Besides, it’s about time someone told the witch’s side of the story — I’ve always thought Dorothy was a drip.
5. James Hynes, “The Lecturer’s Tale”
A horror story in the tradition of Poe, combined with a wickedly funny satire of faculty politics at a prestigious research university.
6. Tracy Kidder, “Among School Children”
A year in the life of a fifth-grade classroom in Holyoke, Mass., and the best description of what it’s like to be a teacher — at any level — that I have read.