by Danielle Childs
Every August, the university receives students with new passions, skills, and perspectives—these students must certainly be the lifeblood of our department. Reading lists may share similarities year to year, but the discussions surrounding them never could. I have to assume that it remains a thorough joy for a professor to read a classic for the umpteenth time, and yet find that they may still see the work afresh through the eyes of a new generation of English majors.
Thus, it is with great pleasure that I introduce you to a new voice in our lively English Department, from whom one can expect a unique perspective and particular set of passions where literature is concerned. I give you freshman English and Theatre double major Megan Macker.
Megan was kind enough to join me for coffee to discuss her literary roots, the intersection of theatre and English, and the infuriating nature of screen adaptations for books.
First things first, what made you choose your majors?
I’ve always wanted to be an English major because I‘ve loved reading since I was kid. I actually want to be a book editor. When I was younger, I would be reading a book and see every little mistake and think, “I’m really good at this.” People would always come to me to edit their essays and it’s just something I’ve always loved. I’ve always known English is what I want to do, especially because a lot of people in my family have English backgrounds. One of my uncles is actually a poetry teacher at a college. With theatre, my aunt works in theatre and so that’s how I became aware of it, but it wasn’t until my senior year of high school, in a theatre tech class, that I got into it for myself. I don’t like being on stage though or being in front of people. It’s the “behind the scenes and set” aspect that I enjoy.
One of the things our English Department Chair always likes to say is that “English is a major that plays well with others.” Do you think English and Theatre work well together as majors?
I do. There are certainly aspects of English within theatre. When you get a script and are reading through it, you can understand what the set is supposed to look like, or what it’s supposed to convey, based on how it’s written in a given scene. I think that because of that, it is really good to have the training English gives you. Also, I would like to somehow be involved in the writing process of plays. . . So maybe they don’t always go exactly hand in hand, but they work well together.
Since you’re interested in scenic design, a field associated with theatre and cinema, but also clearly have a love of literature, what would you say in response to the classic question: “Is the book always better than the movie?”
I completely agree because 1) with a movie you have to keep it within three hours, so things get cut out, and 2) you always get the people who add random scenes that have nothing to do with the book itself. That drives me crazy because you literally have a book telling you exactly what happens. You also miss a lot with narration in movies. Generally, you wouldn’t know what the character is feeling unless they add something to a script which has them say it. The saddest thing, though, is that the shortcomings of the adaptation can give people an excuse not to read really good books. I try not to see the movie adaptations of a book I’ve read unless it’s a huge series or something.
Do you have a most cherished book from your childhood reading?
Fairly early on in my childhood, maybe 2nd grade, my family would go on road trips and my mom would read to us in the car. The very first thing she read was the first Harry Potter book and it started this tradition where my mom would read to us every time we went on a road trip. This got me interested, and by the time we were going to read the fifth Harry Potter book, I took the book and started reading it for myself. But I don’t have a cherished book in the sense that I would always come back to it growing up. I sort of read a book, enjoyed it, and then put it away.
Okay, so reading was a really pleasure-based activity growing up. How are you liking ENGL 112 (Introduction to Literature) then since it involves multiple readings of texts and really digging in to them? I know for a lot of English majors, coming into their first year at the university, reading has been a very personal experience with a lot of private reflection, and in class we do a lot of open discussion…
I really like it. I like the way we progressed from reading short stories to poetry and so on and I also love the discussion aspect of the class. I love the way it gives me a new perspective on stories– when I read them for myself I only have my perspective to play with. The discussion aspect also gets me to read the texts multiple times and find new things, which isn’t something I would generally do outside a class situation. The whole criticism aspect of literature is really interesting as a way of getting at the underlying messages in different texts.
Speaking specifically in terms of academics, what are you hoping to get out of your English degree?
I really want to improve my writing. I wouldn’t say that I am a bad writer now; it’s just that I know [my writing] could be so much better. I know that with the help of the English Department, it will get there. Also, I am excited to get more exposure to different kinds of literature because when I read on my own, I tend to pick the same type of books.
Looking forward, Megan sees herself in the exciting position of having two majors that both open a lot of different doors, though she’s not sure at this point which ones she sees herself walking through. Having known from such an early age that she wanted to study literature and writing, choosing a major wasn’t a very hard decision, and so it’s a bit jarring to be faced with all of the different class options within the major itself. Still, Megan seems excited to learn and open to what our department has to offer.
Speaking for myself, I think new English majors like Megan are exactly what keep our department from becoming stagnant as we read texts which are hundreds of years old and have been reviewed countless times. The reading of a text is so dependent on the layering effect of bringing together a group of students with varied life experiences. As an upperclassman, I am overjoyed to see new majors come in each year with unique eyes to look at literature. Welcome, Megan. And welcome to all our new majors.