The secret life of book lovers

By Kate Stoltzfus

You might be surprised to learn where Ann Hostetler, professor of English, gets her own homework assignments.

“My youngest son has a long reading list for me,” said Hostetler. “I’ve loved discovering books through my kids.”

It’s not as though she doesn’t have enough to read; Hostetler has a list of favorite books a mile long.

“Right away I can think of fifty favorites, beginning with “The Cat in the Hat and the ‘Oz’ books,” said Hostetler. “Even now, I’m worried that I’ve forgotten at least a dozen other books that changed – or at least shaped – my life.”

Hostetler has loved books as long as she can remember. She was scolded regularly as a child for reading instead of setting the dinner table. Once while driving, she missed an exit and tacked 50 miles onto a trip because someone was reading “Pride and Prejudice” aloud in the car.

“I remember being a frustrated five-year-old wondering how I was ever going to decode those shapes underneath the pictures,” Hostetler said. “When it [clicked], I was elated and ran home to tell my parents.”

A long relationship with words was born. Now she lists “The Color Purple,” “Little Women,” “Beloved,” “House of Glass” and “Harry Potter” among must-reads.

Another English professor who is spilling her reading secrets is Julianne Bruneau.

Bruneau remembers when she first realized not everyone shared her love of literature. Her aunt suggested using a book as a good way for cleaning pet stains from a carpet.

“In her directions she said, ‘Weight down the towels with a big book, the bigger the better, like a dictionary or a Bible,’” said Bruneau. “The thought of using a Bible to absorb cat urine was enough to pretty much decide that my aunt and I should not continue to try to have conversations.”

Bruneau’s defining moment with books came in ninth grade.

“We were reading ‘Romeo and Juliet,’” Bruneau said. “I realized I could do language, understand it. My class didn’t get it but I did.”

This ability with language was a turning point in Bruneau’s life and led her to pursue the path of literature, both teaching and reading it. Her love of the written word has lasted but one of the best books she ever read fell into her lap as a college freshman.

“The book was ‘Franny and Zooey’ by J.D. Salinger,” said Bruneau. “[Salinger] is a brilliant writer and the story personifies the quest for the soul. It makes the pursuit more valuable to me.”

Bruneau believes that other forms of entertainment, such as comics or film, cannot capture both the big picture and the small details the way a book can.

“Paper books have a presence, a weight physicality that to me symbolizes their cultural importance,” said Bruneau. “For that reason, give me the book any day.”

“A good book will serve both as a window into another world and as a mirror of your own,” said Hostetler.

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