By the Book: Scott Frey
By the Book: Scott Frey

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 fourth chapter features English faculty member Scott Frey.

Photo by Jenessa Lu '21


1. What books are on your nightstand?

The Water Museum by Luis Alberto Urrea, What You Have Heard is True by Carolyn Forche, The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems of Pablo Neruda, Feel Free by Zadie Smith, and Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon.

2. Which writers working today do you admire most?

Terrance Hayes, Louise Erdrich, Ross Gay, Tyehimba Jess, Luis Alberto Urrea, Jesmyn Ward, Marilynne Robinson. I want to point out that many of the writers I admire most today are writers I hadn't read even a couple of years ago. I love working in a place where my colleagues are excited to recommend amazing books. I moved Zadie Smith to the top of my list a couple of years ago when Ms. Hodgman said I just had to read White Teeth. I never would have read David Grann had Mr. Johnson not raved about his latest book; I can't imagine my life without Citizen by Claudia Rankine, which I hadn't read until Ms. Reed recommended it. One of my favorite reads this summer was Trevor Noah's memoir, and it was my advisee Niya who loaned me the book and encouraged me to read it. Clarky's suggestion brought Arundhati Roy into my life, and though I had long admired Marilyn Nelson, I didn't know about A Wreath for Emmett Till until Ms. Mulhern told me about it a few weeks ago. It's now hard for me to believe that before last year, I had not read Terrance Hayes or Tyehimba Jess, both of whom Dr. Thacker emphatically shared with me. And the list goes on.

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

Old Leon Uris historical fiction like Trinity and Mila 18, and some old fantasy collections from Tolkien (The Silmarillion and the appendices to The Lord of the Rings), George MacDonald (The Princess and the Goblin and his collected stories) and Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). And Anne of Green Gables.

4. What is the best book you have ever received as a gift?

I sometimes feel that the books I read have found their way to me – left on my desk or in my mailbox with a note, or wrapped up with bow and paper. Or perhaps sitting on the shelf, waiting. My dad handed me tattered paperbacks of Go Tell It On The Mountain by James Baldwin, Jubilee by Margaret Walker, and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. Friends gave me two of my most treasured poetry collections, Words Under the Words by Naomi Shihab Nye, and Second Space by Czelaw Milosz. A few weeks ago, a friend gave me a signed copy of Break It Down by Lydia Davis.

5. What do you plan to read next?

Grand Union by Zadie Smith, Station 11 by Emily St. John Mandel, and The Carrying by Ada Limon.

6. What moves you most in a work of literature?

Gripping depictions of grief and grace.

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

I am fortunate to have fond memories of my grandmothers reading aloud, and I still hold a bit of wonder for some of the books my teachers and parents read aloud to us. One of the great joys of my life has been reading with each of my four children. I won't ramble on

about it here, but sometimes when we are nestled in a chair reading Harry Potter or the BFG, it still seems surreal that I'm able to do this.

8. Which film adaptations were better than the book?

Like many people, I think Adaptation is a brilliant on-screen incarnation of Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. Shawshank Redemption, Big Fish, No Country for Old Men, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly – loved the book in all four cases but thought the film was even better.

9. Who was your best English teacher?

Ms. Lynn, in sixth grade, ignited my passion for writing and for reading, especially Greek & Roman myths.. She gave us space to explore and the encouragement to persist at it. I also want to mention Dr. Suhail Hanna, an extraordinary English professor whose humble delight in language and in the work of his students is something I carry with me always. He died a few months ago, and it is an honor to remember him here.

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

When a reader is open to the worlds and stories she encounters in a good book, I believe that the experience helps her grow in kindness, contemplation, and imagination, out of which extraordinary things might grow.