Faculty Bookshelf: An interview with Steve Bein

Faculty.Bein2Steve Bein is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy, teaching classes on Asian philosophy.  Dr. Bein sat down with Kate Pitcher earlier this year to talk about books, reading and his writing life.  Dr. Bein’s second novel in the Fated Blades series (Year of the Demon) is newly published by Roc (an imprint of Penguin Publishing) this October.

What are your current research interests?

My recent projects have been in compassion, environmental ethics, and applied ethics.  My upcoming project is a book chapter on a Japanese philosopher called Watsuji Tetsurō.  There I’m writing about problems of how we self-identify in the face of climate change.

What is your favorite literary genre to read for pleasure?

At heart I’m a science fiction and fantasy guy.  They’ve got the most potential to be philosophically provocative.  But when I’m reading for pleasure, I also have an eye for reading the kind of stuff I’m currently writing.  So for Daughter of the Sword and Year of the Demon, I’ve been reading urban fantasy, historical fiction, and anything with strong female protagonists, because my books have all of those elements.

Do you read one book or multiple books at a time?

I read multiple books at a time.  (In my line of work, there’s not much choice!)

What book(s) are currently on your nightstand or e-reader?

I make it a point to read some philosophy and some fiction every day.  In philosophy I’m reading a lot of Watsuji Tetsurō right now.  In fiction, Kurt Vonnegut’s Sucker’s Portfolio and Hugh Howey’s Wool.

Tell us about a book that changed your life:

Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki is the first book I read on Zen, at fourteen.  It’s the book that put me on my career path. It taught me the importance of mental discipline, and that you didn’t necessarily need to replace one religion for another. The essential message is that your problems are problems because they are problematic for you.  Stress is not objective.  It’s not like weather; it’s not inevitable.  You can manage it.the-hobbit-tolkien

As for fiction, I read The Hobbit when I was a kid and I was hooked on fantasy after that.  Tolkien led me to Madeline L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Robert E. Howard, all of that stuff.  From there I got into the sci fi side: Frank Herbert, Philip K. Dick, writers like that.  But I think The Hobbit is the snowflake that triggered the avalanche.

Name a book you just couldn’t finish & why:

I was asked to review a first novel, The Name of the Wind, which was advertised as Tolkienesque.  In my review I wanted to write, “it’s exactly as Tolkienesque as my work is Tolkienesque, which is to say not at all.”  No one is Tolkienesque—not until they redefine an entire genre and influence everyone in it.  My review of that book was, “Harry Potter without an interesting school, interesting adventures, or interesting friends, blathering on endlessly while taking superhuman efforts to remain a virgin.”

What were your favorite books as a child?

The Black Stallion, Choose Your Own Adventures, typical kid stuff. Thousands of pages of comic books. So many Conan novels. I was just at the right age when comic books made the shift from kid’s fare to adult fare.  Batman, Wolverine and those guys were my mythology, but then graphic novels came into being, so I could follow them into high school and beyond.

Do you have any favorite books related to your academic background in Japanese philosophy and history—books that non-experts would find accessible?

SophiesWorldZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is brilliant, and very accessible.  Robert Aitken is also very accessible; he’s one of the guys who brought Zen Buddhism to the United States.  The Mind of Clover stands out as a good choice.  On the Western side, Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World is a lovely little introduction to philosophy.

You also write fiction –how do you manage the difference in the writing process (or is there a difference?) between creative and scholarly writing?

They’re different but they inform each other. I think the demand for research in my academic life has trained me to do a lot of background reading for my fiction—which is a good thing, because historical fiction is heavily research intensive.  On the flipside, the fiction acts as a reward system for the academic scholarship; in fact, I’m sure I never could have finished my dissertation without it.  I was writing a novel at the time, and my system was to write 500 words a day for the dissertation before I was allowed to do any fiction writing.  A year later I had a finished dissertation and a novel manuscript in hand.

And then there’s the obvious: no matter what you write, I think the more time you spend writing, the better you get at it.  In my philosophy I want to be clear and lucid; in my fiction I want to write with panache.  Not a lot of philosophers focus on the latter, but in my opinion, writing clearly, lucidly, and with flair is no bad thing.

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be?  What would you want to know?

Plato, and everything.

Faculty Bookshelf: Rachel Hall

Professor Rachel Hall in Holland.

Rachel Hall, Professor of English, Director of Writing, and award-winning author, is an avid reader of fiction, especially short stories. As a young woman, she became enamored of the short story, and continues to read them for inspiration and enlightenment. The stories of Alice Munro were especially important to her, in particular, Munro’s exploration of characters and their psychology.

Many of Professor Hall’s favorite short stories are by Alice Munro: “Dimensions” and “Free Radicals” from the collection Too Much Happiness; “My Mother’s Dream” from The Love of a Good Woman; “Friend of My Youth” and “Differently” from Friend of My Youth; “Labor Day Dinner” from The Moons of Jupiter; “Miles City, Montana” from The Progress of Love; “Carried Away” from Open Secrets.

Finding a Girl in America
Finding a Girl in America

She also enjoys Andre Dubus’ stories collected in Separate Flights and Finding a Girl in America, Robin Black’s If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, Jean Thompson’s Throw Like A Girl, The News From Spain by Joan Wickersham, and Siobahn Fallon’s You’ll Know When The Men Are Gone. And when she wants something new, literary magazines keep her well supplied.

Professor Hall says, “My philosophy on books and reading is that you can never be bored if you love books. I grew up in a family of readers and that is one of the best gifts my parents gave me.  I’m always reading something.  I read for many different reasons–for pleasure, or inspiration, or research or for models (how was this story built?) especially when I’m rereading.”

If I Loved You I Would Tell You This
If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

Next on Professor Hall’s reading list is Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien’s collection of related short stories about Vietnam, and two books by Philip Caputo, Rumor of War, which is a personal narrative of a soldier in Vietnam, and 13 Seconds: A Look Back at the Kent State Shootings.

Not surprisingly when you look at her “to do” reading list, Professor Hall’s next writing project will be a novel set in the 1960s-70s, so she is set to enjoy researching for that book. Another future project is the Rochester Jewish Book Festival. She is on the committee that sponsors the festival and she will be traveling to New York City soon to recruit speakers for that event.

When asked what her favorite books were as a child, Professor Hall reveals a fascination with The Endless Steppe, by Esther Hautzig, spending hours imagining herself as the protagonist in frozen Siberia. Additionally, she enjoyed The Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the Little House on the Prairie series, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, and biographies of women such as Helen Keller.


Professor Hall shares her love of reading with her daughter; the two are members of a mother-daughter book club. While this gives her the opportunity to explore some new books with her daughter, it also means she has to read some books she’d rather not (Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson comes to mind).

The author Professor Hall would love to meet and talk to? Alice Munro, of course! If such a meeting could happen, Ms. Munro would undoubtedly enjoy the conversation with Rachel Hall immensely.


Faculty Bookshelf: Joanna Kirk

A continuing series of interviews with SUNY Geneseo faculty on their reading interests; today’s “Faculty Bookshelf” delves into the pursuits of Sociology and Political Science professor, Joanna Kirk.   

JKirkWhat is your philosophy on books and reading?

You are what you read. Books are food for the mind, psyche and soul, and you can’t live a full life without them. Like dishes, you won’t like them all, and you shouldn’t feel obliged to finish your plate. In fact, don’t feel obliged to start it, or perhaps nibble around the edges to please the person who has brought it your way. Revisit your favorite books: like your favorite cuisine, your favorite literature offers comfort and delight, and (books do this better than food) you always learn something new.

What is your favorite literary genre to read for pleasure?

Fiction, particularly novels exploring social, political, economic and psychological issues; and creative nonfiction, particularly historical and travel.  Oh, and when I want a laugh, sci-fi/fantasy comedy – wish I could find more writers of this genre up to par with Douglas Adams (“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”) and Terry Pratchett (“Disc World”).  Any suggestions, anyone?



What books are on your nightstand now?

Currently reading: Written by Herself: Autobiographies of American Women WrittenByHerself

Books currently on my bedside table (next up, in order):

Tell us about a book that changed your life:

EdibleWomanToo many books have influenced me to mention here (some of which are listed above), but the first that comes to mind as a work with an immediate and profound effect on my thoughts and behavior was Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, a gift from my elder brother, who I know perceived what I was going through.  The book helped me greatly with an eating disorder, and drew me further into issues of gender stereotyping, inequality and violence.

Name a book you just couldn’t finish: Lord of the rings

There are two “classics” I never finished:

What were your favorite books as a child?

Most* memorable childhood and young adult books (all of which helped me formulate goals in terms of personal qualities, professional skills, and lifetime accomplishments):

* It would be more accurate to say that they are the ones that have come to mind over the week since I was invited – thank you, Milne Library! – to write my book-bio.LittleHouseSeries


What are your current research interests?

Global development policy, particularly environmental and social sustainability and justice; and women’s rights, particularly violence against women.

Many of these books are available in the Milne Library collection and the others are available via IDS, simply click on the links or book covers above to get the call number or click “Get It” to request the book via IDS.

Faculty Bookshelf: An interview with Professor Jani Lewis

Biology professor Dr. Jani Lewis

A continuing series of interviews with SUNY Geneseo faculty on their reading interests; today’s “Faculty Bookshelf” delves into the pursuits of Biology professor, Jani Lewis.

Biology professor Dr. Jani Lewis
Biology professor Dr. Jani Lewis

Professor Lewis’ reading interests could be described as both predictable and diverse including genre’s related to her biology research and those she has loved since childhood.

What are your current research Interests?

My current research interests involve vulvar cancer.  It appears that some cancers react differently to a commonly used drug for treating vulvar rashes.  Some cancers will cease growth while others may actually develop into more severe forms of the cancer.  Vulvar cancer is a rare cancer among women and so has not been studied extensively but is a very serious cancer afflicting mainly those over the age of 60 and often those who do not see a gynecologist regularly.  I work with an OB/GYN doctor at the University of Rochester, Dr. David Foster, to study this disease.

What is your favorite literary genre to read for pleasure?

I love science fiction and fiction in general but I also love reading science history.  Yes, I am a science geek but also love a good mystery.
Emperor of all Maladies book cover We'll Always have Paris book cover

What books are on your nightstand now?

I have several and mostly half finished.  My biggest problem is starting a book without finishing the one I am presently reading.  I have The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee and We’ll Always Have Paris: Stories by Ray Bradbury.

Tell us about a book that changed your life:

That would be hard to ascribe to just one book. I can say that several books greatly influenced my life. The ones that come to mind are A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle, “Egg and Ego: an almost true story of life in the biology lab” by J. M. W. Slack are among the ones that immediately come to mind.

A Short History of Nearly Everything book cover Frankenstein book cover A swiftly tilting planet book cover Egg and Ego book cover

Name a book you just couldn’t finish:

Oh this is the story of my life! I frequently pick up a book and then find that I just can’t get into it. The latest one that I tried reading over the summer was “Middlesex” by Jeffrey Eugenides. I know it was a work of great acclaim but I just couldn’t get into it.

Watership down cover imageEncyclopedia Brown book coverWhat were your favorite books as a child?

I loved all of Madeleine L’Engle’s books. I was a big reader of the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley and the Flame series also by Farley. I read the Encyclopedia Brown series by Donald Sobol and Watership Down as well as several of Richard Adams other books were among my favorites.

Do you have any favorite books related to your academic background in cell and molecular biology?

Experiments and observations of the gastric juice book title pageThere is a great book which I have gone back to a lot over the years called Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice, and the Physiology of Digestion by William Beaumont.  It’s a fascinating account of an American physiologist who studied the gastric juices of a soldier over many years.  The soldier  just so happened to have a gun inflicted fissure in his stomach which allowed the physician to remove the stomach contents when ever he wished and examine the digestion process.  The study took place in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and it is amazing to learn about medicine and research during that period from this first hand account.

Many of these books are available in the Milne Library collection and the others are available via IDS, simply click on the links or book covers above to get the call number or click “Get It” to request the book via IDS.

Faculty Bookshelf: An Interview with Meg Stolee

Professor Meg Stolee and Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

The line between pleasure reading and research interests is blurred when it comes to Professor Meg Stolee from the History Department: prison camp memoirs top her list of favorite genre for pleasure reading!  An avid reader of memoirs by women, mysteries, and biography, Professor Stolee typically reads between 5 and 7 books a week, a fact her students find astonishing.

While current research interests surround the book Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin by Timothy Snyder, and The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn, currently on her nightstand is The Cloud Atlas by Liam Callanan (not the book Cloud Atlas that was recently made into a film!). She’s also reading Kiev, 1941 by David Stahel, which offers a new assessment of Hitler’s Barbarossa campaign in the USSR.

Professor Stolee’s favorite books about women include the elegant and poignant book Hope Against Hope by Nadezhda Mandel’shtam, whose husband was a prisoner under Stalin. She also favors Where She Came From by Helen Epstein, and Under a Cruel Star by Heda Margolius Kovaly.

When asked what book changed her life, Professor Stolee mentions a Dorothy L. Sayers mystery called Gaudy Night, read while she was a student at Bryn Mawr College. The book explores women and higher education, women’s full acceptance in male-dominated academic life, and the tensions that arise when women try to balance love and marriage with careers in academia. It gave the undergraduate a lot to think about while attending lectures and writing papers. Students who think they don’t have time for “light” reading while in college take heed: Like Meg Stolee, your life might be influenced the most by a book not listed on a syllabus!

Faculty Bookshelf: Interview with Cheryl Kreutter

A continuing series of interviews with SUNY Geneseo faculty on their reading interests; today’s “Faculty Bookshelf” delves into the pursuits of School of Education professor, Cheryl Kreutter.

What are your current research Interests?
My current research interests focus on literacy teacher education, critical literacy, and international children’s & young adult literature.  I wonder how reading and reflecting on literature through a critical literacy lens might impact teachers’ use of international text. I’m also curious about how the Common Core State Standards will influence teacher choice of literature and pedagogy in English Language Arts classrooms.

What is your favorite literary genre to read for pleasure?

Action and adventure, particularly those involving aviation.

What book is on your nightstand now?
Now We Read, We See, We Speak: Portrait of Literacy Development in an Adult Freierian-Based Class by Victoria Purcell-Gates and Robin A. Waterman

Tell us about a book that changed your life.
A book that has highly influenced my professional thinking is Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire.  Freire believed that the true purpose of literacy education is to liberate people to become fully human.  Teachers and students must engage in dynamic, mutual exchanges to read critically both the world and the word, in order to deconstruct the layers of socio-political meanings of words and reconstruct meanings that contribute toward the transformation of an unjust society. I purposefully incorporate dialogue and critique throughout my courses to emphasize personal and social transformation attained through literacy.

Name a book you just couldn’t finish.
The Ask and the Answer: Chaos Walking: Book Two by Patrick Ness.  (sequel to Knife of Never Letting Go.)

What were your favorite books as a child?
Mysteries.  (Although, I should say Mark Twain because I grew up in Elmira, NY).

If you could meet any writer, dead or alive, who would it be?  What would you want to know?
I would like to (re)meet Louise Rosenblatt.  I attended a presentation where she, at age 98, stood up, shook her fist, and reprimanded the audience of educators for not making our voices heard to policy makers, and I, no doubt, would benefit from her insights about current education policy. I’d also like her recommendations for ways that I can help my students understand how and why she preferred her transaction theory of reading not to be confused with reader response theory.

Do you have a favorite book?  What is it and why is it your favorite?
My favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird. I make it a point to reread it every year or so.

Do you want to learn more about the reading habits of a Geneseo Faculty member? Let us know by emailing Tracy Paradis at [email protected]

Faculty Bookshelf: Interview with Andrew Herman

The first in a series of interviews with SUNY Geneseo faculty on their reading interests, today’s “Faculty Bookshelf” starts off with Andrew Herman, Associate Professor and Chair of the Communication department.

Faculty Bookshelf: Andrew Herman, Communications

What are some current research interests?
I’m currently working with two Milne librarians to study the effects of teaching plagiarism in the classroom.  Depending on the type of instruction they are given – is it positive?  Is it negative? – does that translate to how motivated they are to cite sources when they are writing papers?  What is the intrinsic motivation behind citations?  Can we as instructors provide more motivation to get students to cite? 

What is your favorite literary genre to read for pleasure?
Hmmm….I don’t have a particular genre I follow, I mostly read fiction, but I also like biographies.

What book is on your nightstand now?
You mean my “metaphorical” nightstand, right?  The Bible is always there, and I’m currently reading (or trying to read!) The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  It’s a novel set during World War II about a little girl who steals books and is narrated by Death.  I’m also trying to read the second book in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire, since I’m reading the first one with my family.

Tell me about a book that changed your life and why:
The Bible greatly influenced and changed the direction of my life.  In high school I read George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, two influential books, but it wasn’t until college and my MA program when I read Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death that I realized their impact.  I read passages in Postman’s book about Orwell’s 1984 and was struck by the opposition to the Orwell text, but also the startling similarities to Huxley’s Brave New World.   Postman’s book examines our level of indifference as a society, much like Huxley, which is a contrast to the totalitarian government found in Orwell.  These books changed how I viewed society.

What were your favorite books as a child?
I was a big fan of the Horatio Hornblower series of books by C.S. Forester. The books are about a British Royal Naval officer, set in the early nineteenth century.  I also loved Lost Horizon, an older novel about a plane crash and the protagonist’s discovery of a utopian society in Tibet.

Know of any faculty members we should interview for Faculty Bookshelf?  Contact Tracy Paradis with suggestions!