Student Picks: Davis, Melville


Margaret McNellis--Versailles by Kathryn Davis follows Marie Antoinette from her marriage to Louis XVI to the end of her life at the mercy of the revolutionaries. Davis delves into Antoinette’s spirit, exploring what it might have felt like to be in her shoes—not the Antoinette that lives on through the historically inaccurate phrase, “Let them eat cake,” but rather through the eyes of a bright young woman required to fit into a confining role. Simultaneously, Davis presents the recent history of the French Monarchy, from the Sun King (Louis XIV) to Louis XVI through a discussion on changes to the architecture, landscaping, and design of Versailles.

In addition to all of these fascinating and beautiful details, what struck me was the structure Davis employs. While most of the story is told through first-person point of view, narrated by the Queen herself, interludes are presented as scenes in a play, providing insight into other characters’ points of view about Antoinette, Louis XVI, and contemporary French politics.


Ashley Bales--This year faculty member Lydia Peelle participated in a marathon reading of Moby Dick, that takes place annually at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. I first heard about this marathon reading from Lydia a year ago, so when I took my copy off the shelf to get me through the holidays, her description of these celebratory readings was in my head. As I sat reading, watching my husband string Christmas lights on the tree my father had decided to let us decorate that year, I tried reading a sentence or two aloud. The words rolled off my tongue--round words, old words--and I ran out of breath before the first period. After Christmas, my husband, my brother and I drove 13 hours north from San Jose to visit my mother in Seattle. A week later we drove back and instead of podcasts or burning through an audio book, I practiced my breath control and read Moby Dick. It was wonderful to feel the language in those long, rhythmic sentences, feel Melville change the cadence with the lowering boats, adjust to Queeaueg's dialect, attack the consonant "Moby Dick" in Ahab's drawl. I didn't get through it all on the drive, had to finish it silently on the flight back home to New York. In those final ferocious moments I wished I could have made myself breathless with Melvilles words.

Hear Lydia Peelle talk about the annual marathon in this interview with NPR.