Faculty Offer Suggestions for Enrichment and Escape

UML English professors Todd Avery and Maia Gil'Adi Image by K. Webster
English professors Todd Avery and Maia Gil'Adi talk about monsters in English and Latinx literature.

By Katharine Webster and David Perry

Around the world, people are trying to adapt to the new reality of life in the time of coronavirus. It’s an ever-shifting landscape of uncertainty, dominated by an unseen enemy. Many people who are hunkering down and practicing social distancing are turning to the arts to reduce isolation and soothe the mind and soul.

UMass Lowell faculty, going through their own adjustments during this time of disruption, have some advice for those looking for entertainment, diversion, enrichment or simply an escape.

“People need to feel connected right now. And I think the humanities provide a special space of comfort for people in moments of stress, chaos and confusion,” says Maia Gil’Adi, assistant professor of English and Latinx literature. “There are great resources out there.”

Libraries – both UMass Lowell’s and local libraries − offer rich troves of online resources that can be downloaded for free. To check what’s available through UMass Lowell’s libraries, search under the “Catalog” tab for digital copies of books. There are also “libguides” on literature that you can browse for reading ideas.

“We’re also part of the Commonwealth Collections, which allows UML community members to borrow from Overdrive through many of the (library) systems in the state,” says librarian Sara Marks. “It's my favorite way to get popular ebooks and audiobooks.”

Many online booksellers offer classics for free or for just $1. You can buy the entire works of Mark Twain, Jane Austen or Charles Dickens on Kindle for $5 to $10 apiece.

Go Gothic

For historical perspective in the form of fiction dealing with epidemics, mad science and more, go Gothic. English Prof. Todd Avery and Assoc. Prof. Bridget Marshall, who both teach courses in Gothic literature, suggest classics with dark disease themes, including Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre” (madness and a typhus epidemic), Mary Shelley's “Frankenstein” (scientist whose creation turns on him) and Bram Stoker's “Dracula” (vampirism – fictional, but at the time it was written, many people believed in vampires).

Marshall and Avery also recommend more contemporary works, including Marshall’s favorites: “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” and “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” both short stories by Karen Russell.

“They are both awesome and would be the top of my reading list for these days,” Marshall says. “They are fabulous short stories set in weird, off-kilter worlds.”

Avery recommends “The Andromeda Strain,” by Michael Crichton, a popular novel (which was also made into a film) about a potential end-of-the-world epidemic that’s more dangerous than COVID-19. Right now, Avery says, he is reading Albert Camus’s “The Plague,” about an epidemic sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran.

Gil’Adi recommends “Saving the World,” a new book by Julia Alvarez that includes a story within a story about the Spanish expedition of orphans who carried the smallpox vaccine to Spain’s territories in Africa and the Americas.

If poetry’s your thing, the Poetry Foundation offers a poem of the day, along with hundreds of other poems, poet biographies and other information. You can also search for the award-winning poets on UML’s creative writing faculty, Assoc. Profs. Sandra Lim and Maggie Dietz, and read their work.

Your favorite author is probably just as stir-crazy as you right now, so ask them a question on Goodreads. You can also check out the book clubs at Bustle and Goodreads, which hosts Oprah’s Book Club, Addicted to YA and more.

Beyond books, Gil’Adi also recommends the following enlightening entertainment:

Study the Bugs

Ellen Wetmore, chair of the Art & Design Department, recommends watching online live performances, which many musicians and others are streaming for free. And, she notes, you don’t have to be famous to share your art on social media.

“I think Facebook- and Instagram-type hangouts are going to keep the students sane. Just posting artwork and telling your friends that you’ve seen them and their work and that you care about it is helpful,” she says.

When it comes to online art exhibits, Wetmore spends time on the websites of major museums and checks out magazines like “Hyperallergic” and “Juxtapoz” for art news. She also suggests stepping away from the computer and going outdoors for relief – and beauty.

“I tend to climb into my backyard and study the bugs and late daylight,” she says. “It’s relaxing.”