RECOMMENDATIONS from Rae DelBlanco '14
In her debut novel Rough Animals (Arcade Publishing), DelBianco makes a powerful entrance to the contemporary Western genre, weaving the poetic and laconic tale of a man on a meandering journey through the Utah wilderness. Here, she shares the works that have inspired her on her own writing journey.
Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote: A bittersweet coming-of-age that I’ll argue is the most beautiful work of Southern Gothic literature in existence. The earliest novel-length work of a literary legend, it holds none of Capote’s worldly pronouncements of his later works, its experiences freshly and purely sensory in the way that only our initial discovery of the world can be.
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron ’47: There are dozens of reasons to read Sophie’s Choice, but for any Duke aspiring writers, here’s another—Styron’s semi-autobiographical protagonist is a recent Duke grad in his early twenties who’s struggling to write in New York. When he’s told by an old publishing colleague, “Son, write your guts out,” it’s Styron speaking straight into your ear.
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson: A kaleidoscopically gorgeous set of linked stories for anyone who prefers books that plunge us into an atmosphere over those that take us on a linear track, filled with junkies and criminals and nobodies who find redemption in the bright cracks of their broken souls. The type of book that teaches us to see the light in the dark and the beauty in chaos.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy: Discovering this blood-soaked masterpiece in Professor Victor Strandberg’s contemporary lit class as a sophomore was one of those Duke moments that change your life forever. The next year, we did an independent study on "The Aesthetics of Violence in Cormac McCarthy," breaking down how beauty in prose can force us to look at brutality, and in turn formed the basis of my education as a writer. The rest is history.
Chatting with Laurent Dubois, professor of Romance studies and history
Over the past decade, Dubois has taught a course that explains world history, politics, and culture through the lens of the most beautiful game. This spring, just in time for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, his new book, The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer (Basic Books), operates as both a primer for the uninitiated and an insightful cultural exploration for the scarf-shrouded fan. Here, Dubois explains how his love for the game has invaded his academic work and affected his viewing habits.
How have you developed this entire series of scholarly inquiry around soccer?
My first work as an academic is about Caribbean history and French Empire. I wrote about the French Revolution and the Haitian Revolution in Haiti. But in the 1990s, the French World Cup team became this big symbol because the players were of such diverse backgrounds. It became a place where that historical experience of slavery, colonialism, immigration was talked about a lot. Some of the players became even quite prominent as voices talking about history and their history as people. So I connected with what they were doing around that, just because I was, during the same period, thinking about those issues.
And then, in 2006, when the World Cup ended with Zidane’s head-butt in the final, I started writing an essay about that—I was in Paris at the time—about just what that meant. That evolved into this book called Soccer Empire that I published in 2010. That was really the nexus between my interest in the French Empire, history, memory, and soccer.
You mentioned Albert Camus and Vladimir Nabokov as players in the book. Is there something about soccer that makes it more of a writers’ sport?
I do think so. For one thing, it’s just that it’s so widely shared has just meant that you can go to Latin American literature, African, European. There are so many places in the world where this sport is so central. But I do think that it has drawn intellectuals often, and even in the book’s chapter on the midfielder, on “Total Football”—Dutch soccer was commented on by abstract artists, and architects, and ballet dancers. That’s maybe something that we’re not as used to in American sports culture, that there’d be this real sweep of cultural life around the sport.
So you have the stereotype of the jock that does not overlap with the academic. And in soccer, it’s all blended together a little bit?
There’s always that tension. When you teach sport at an American university, you often kind of get that question. Like, is this really academic? And I remember the first time I taught the [“World Cup and World Politics”] course, a Duke alumnus who had written about sport when he was here and has since written about sport, described being an undergraduate here—having sports dominate his life outside the classroom and never having it once come up in the classroom. I think it’s such a huge part of our culture that we also have to talk about it critically and in the classroom.
In one of the final chapters, you describe how, when you’re watching soccer, you’re rooting for storylines more than anything—you’d be happy if either team won. What is that like?
It’s funny, because I wrote a piece for The New Republic about this Belgium-Algeria game that I watched. I’m Belgian originally, and I also have written a lot about Algerian soccer. I think the Algerian team’s very compelling. What I wrote about in that piece was that I figured out who I was rooting for, when someone scored a goal, by my reaction.
But I do think there’s a lot of painfulness in a World Cup because, in a way, you will get attached to teams. Everyone loses except for one team. So there’s this way in which soccer is about joy, but it’s also a lot about tragedy, and loss, and that spectrum of emotions. And that’s the root of its power—the stories that it tells, and what those stories tell us about ourselves. That’s why it’s such an important form of culture.
BY DUKE ALUMNI & FACULTY
Activism and the Fossil Fuel Industry (Routledge Press) Andrew Cheon ’09 and Johannes Urpelainen
Darwin’s Ghosts (Seven Stories Press) Ariel Dorfman, Walter Hines Page Research Professor Emeritus of literature
College Success Stories That Inspire (Miniver Press) Steven Roy Goodman ’85
Laughing at the Devil: Seeing the World With Julian of Norwich (Duke University Press) Amy Laura Hall, associate professor of Christian ethics
What Happens Now? Reinvent Yourself as a Leader Before Your Business Outruns You (SelectBooks) John Hillen ’88 and Mark Nevins
The King of Halloween and Miss Firecracker Queen: A Daughter’s Tale of Family and Football (Morgan James Publishing) Lori Leachman, professor of the practice of economics
The Pursuit of Happiness: Black Women, Diasporic Dreams, and the Politics of Emotional Transnationalism (Duke University Press) Bianca C. Williams ’02, A.M. ’05, Ph.D. ’09