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Why Imani Perry Doesn’t Like Jane Austen’s Novels

In terms of playwrights, Lynn Nottage and Kirsten Greenidge. Their voices are distinctive, but they both share Lorraine’s gift for an extraordinary crafting of ideas and arguments through authentic personalities and language. Their work is masterful.

What’s your favorite book to assign to and discuss with your students at Princeton?

W. E. B. Du Bois’s “The Souls of Black Folk” is a gift that keeps on giving: social history, legal history, Jim Crow, sociology, philosophy. I would venture to guess it is one of the handful of most widely taught books in African-American studies courses across the country. I also love teaching the Jorge Luis Borges short story “La Lotería” for thinking about law and punishment.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

Ideally, both. I think the best books unlatch something within, and that requires both intellectual provocation and emotional disarming. That’s what keeps me reading.

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

Adult male canaries learn a new song every year in order to attract mates. It’s like a ritual of annual renewal through beauty. I love it. It’s one many facts in this book by Moheb Costandi called “Neuroplasticity,” but I’m taken by the poetry of it more than the science.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

The feeling of astonishment, being knocked off kilter, is what makes me vulnerable as a reader. Vulnerability is the key, for me, to be deeply affected by the story.

How do you organize your books?

Very loosely by genre, which is constantly disrupted because I pull multiple books off the shelves every day and don’t return them to where they belong. It’s a problem because there are thousands of books in my home and office. My lack of discipline always threatens a slide into chaos. A house of books is even more dangerous than a house of cards! Also, I like the way color coding looks, but I’m not meticulous enough for that.

What book might people be surprised to find on your shelves?

Probably Federico García Lorca’s “Blood Wedding and Other Plays” in Spanish. I studied Latin American literature in college and even though I’ve lost a lot of my Spanish, there are still works that I prefer in the original.

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