By the Book: Megan Mulhern

The New York Times has a weekly installment called “By the Book,” which is a series of questions and answers about the reading habits of notable writers. Walker’s first chapter features new English faculty member Megan Mulhern.

Photo by Jenessa Lu ’21

1. What books are on your nightstand?

The Overstory by Richard Powers, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X Kendi, There There by Tommy Orange, and Inland by Tea Obrecht.

2. Which writers working today do you admire most?

I was devastated when Toni Morrison passed away; I think she was the greatest author alive in the 21st century. I love Jesmyn Ward and how she is continuing to evolve the “American voice.” Ocean Vuong’s poetry and prose is unbelievably beautiful and moving in ways that I couldn’t imagine before reading his work. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essays have been incredibly powerful at this moment in time. Margaret Atwood’s mastery of multiple genres across many decades is certainly admirable. And lastly, Sally Rooney is the newest master of prose and captures something distinctly millennial.

3. Which book might we be surprised to find on your bookshelves?

I still have my entire collection of Harry Potter books. I was the perfect age to read them as they were released. My best friend and I would get one copy and read it together – potentially an important experience for increasing my reading speed as we would have to wait to flip the page until we were both done with it.

4. Who is your favorite fictional hero and who is your favorite fictional anti-hero, or villain?

Is it too cliche to say Elizabeth Bennett? Lady MacBeth? Sethe? I think I like any complex female character.

5. What kind of reader were you as a child?


6. You are organizing a dinner party. Which three writers, dead or alive, do you invite?

Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Joyce. Mostly out of pure curiosity. I do worry I might lose some respect for all of them though – most great works of literature seem to be more irreproachable than those who created them.

7. What do you plan to read next?

The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates and Red at the Bone by Jaqueline Woodson (it has been a busy fall for good fiction!)

8. Name a writer who should be more known than they are. Why?

Rebecca Makkai (The Great Believers) and Emily St. John Mandel (Station Eleven).

9. Do you like being read to or reading aloud?

I like both. Though it often depends on the text. Anything with a lot of dialogue I would rather hear in my head. And if it’s a page-turner I will get frustrated that I could be reading silently faster. I do love listening to audiobooks on long car rides.

10. Which film adaptations were better than the book?

Game of Thrones. There have also been some amazing film versions of plays – but I don’t think those count for this question.

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

The Overstory is a wonderful novel of intricately interwoven stories, but it is also teaching me so much about trees and ecology – I never knew trees were so social!

12. Do books serve a moral function, in your view?

Yes, but not a didactic one. Books are one way that we explore the world, other peoples’ lives, and what it means to be human. Books exercise our empathy and stretch our capacity for understanding. They help us to solidify and evolve our beliefs and morals by inviting us to imagine the lives of others and the multitude of possibilities that life holds.