Laurel is a sophomore Classics major from Saint Paul, Minnesota. She is a part of the Gustavus Wind Orchestra, the Crossroads program and Building Bridges. This J-term, she spent the month studying local history in the class Commemorating Controversy: The US-Dakota War of 1862. Laurel described this as more than a class; they read history books and novels, took field trips to historical sites, heard lectures, and created exhibit panels on the war that are now touring locally!
What is the most important book you’ve ever read?
Persuasion, or more generally, Jane Austen. She is such an astute observer of human nature. Although set in a very distinct time period, the social situations Austen explores are not confined to that time. I think her writing speaks to a universal element of human nature.
I read Emma in 8th grade. Emma, the main character, is a confident matchmaker for all of her friends but then ends up with someone she didn’t expect—Emma never saw him as a potential husband. But I read it and thought, “He’s so old!” I got freaked out and stopped reading Austen. But then a few years later I watched the movie Pride and Prejudice and I got back into it.
What was your favorite book as a kid?
I was really lucky—my dad would read to me before bed. The first series we read together was the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. Then when he found out the Lord of the Rings movie was coming out, he said, “Well, you have to read the book first!” So we did those. After that my mom tried to read Nancy Drew with me, but I was not having it.
Do you have a favorite book character?
Anne Elliot from Persuasion is a favorite. She is not your typical main character or heroine. She’s quieter, smart but not brilliant. She stays on the sidelines, but I think she is one of Austen’s most mature characters. The subtle representations of her own emotions are just powerful. When I’m reading, sometimes I like to imagine what characters’ modern day professions would be. I think Anne would be a nurse—she’s very caring and nurturing.
Where is your favorite place to study or read?
When it’s nice out, I go to the arb. There’s the rock garden, of course, and near the Interpretive Center, but I also like sitting on the benches that are further out. If there’s not bugs or ticks!
If it’s not nice out, the third floor of Old Main. It’s small, but it has a nice feel.
What book would you recommend to Gusties?
During the school year, check out a book of poetry. It’s hard to read a continuous story like a novel, but you can sit down with some poems for 20 minutes. I really like going back to Sappho. She was a Greek poet—maybe the first female poet. Or try Ovid if you’re looking for something raunchy.
Also, The Night Birds by Thomas Maltman. It is historical fiction about the Dakota-U.S. War and the ties to the Civil War. It is first set in 1862 but then moves on to the feelings and reactions of the generations to come. I think it is an important book for people living in this area to read.