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UC Berkeley Web Feature

Faculty Nightstand: For Erin Murphy, summer offers the time to immerse in long reads

– Erin Murphy, assistant professor of law, calls herself "a pretty voracious reader." Summer's relaxed schedule only exacerbates her bookworm tendencies. Erin Murphy
Erin Murphy (Wendy Edelstein photo)
"I typically tear through books that I like, but I also have a horrible habit of not being able to quit reading books even if I dislike them; it's probably because I am an eternal optimist," reveals Murphy.

Although Murphy has long made resolutions to read more nonfiction and biographies, she favors fiction interspersed with contemporary poetry.  The law prof has a soft spot for the Victorians — "any and all of them."  This summer, she's discovered a new favorite and managed to delve outside of the fictive realm.

Doctore Thorne book coverDoctor Thorne
Anthony Trollope
Norilana Books (1858)

Recently, I started working my way through Trollope's Chronicles of Barsetshire. I immediately fell in love. The books are simultaneously witty and sappy, old-fashioned and modern, silly and serious. "Doctor Thorne" is my favorite so far, and I just started "The Small House at Allington." They are great books for a soft touch like myself: good always triumphs over evil and love conquers all. Trollope frequently addresses the audience directly, usually to baldly state early on that the hero and heroine are going to end up together or that some perceived crisis will in fact be averted, but he is such a good and funny writer that you're enthralled by the journey rather than by the promise of revelation at the end. But lest I depict him as entirely frivolous, I should add that even Trollope's most fanciful stories earnestly broach timeless political, gender, socioeconomic and moral questions.

Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West
Hampton Sides
Doubleday (2006)

Blood and Thunder book coverIn addition, I recently read Hampton Sides' "Blood and Thunder: The Epic Story of Kit Carson and the Conquest of the American West" in anticipation of what turned out to be a great trip to New Mexico. "Blood and Thunder" is essentially 400 pages of people fighting with one another: the New Mexicans with the Mexicans; the Mexicans with the Spanish; the North Americans with the Mexicans, New Mexicans, and Native American tribes; the various Native American tribes among each other; and then ultimately, the Americans among themselves in the Civil War. The primary focus is on Kit Carson and the decimation of the Navajo tribe, both of which the author paints in complicated, if forgiving, colors. While I wasn't crazy about Sides' narrative style, the story itself was riveting. For anyone wanting to learn a bit more about the Southwest, with even a smidge of California's own history thrown in for good measure, it is a definite must-read.

Selfwolf book coverSelfwolf
Mark Halliday
University of Chicago Press (1999)

Lastly, I keep myself, courtesy of a friend, on a steady diet of contemporary poetry in an effort to offset the general swelling in my overtaxed left brain. I tend to go more for the wry, funny writers than the abstruse, lyrical ones. Lately, I have been revisiting Mark Halliday, one of my all-time favorites. On what passes for a sultry afternoon in Berkeley, with the heat keeping me from being able to do much more than sip an iced coffee, I stumbled on his poem that begins "The day is HOT. I can feel myself not / getting tenure." I laughed, but then quickly said a prayer that the poem remains a source of amusement to me, rather than autobiography.

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