Amherst Magazine

What They Are Reading

Wendy Woodson, the Roger C. Holden 1919 Professor of Theater and Dance, describes the books she’s reading.

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I like to read many things at once, taken from different piles that seem to appear willy-nilly in every room of my house. Pick one up, put one down. Recently I read reports about how multitasking is bad for us, so I worry about my scattered reading habits, but I’m afraid it’s too late.

Right now I have a pile on mobility studies and geography. This pile started several years ago, when I began working on performance and video pieces related to place, migration and belonging. In the process of this work, I discovered new book territories that continue to challenge me. Currently I’m tracking through Geography and the Human Spirit, by Anne Buttimer. I have no idea what reputation, if any, this book has with geographers, but I appreciate the connections she makes visible (and visceral) between art and geography in their shared interests in pattern, form and transformations. I like thinking of choreography as geography and vice versa. Another in that pile is Homo Geographicus: A Framework for Action, Awareness and Moral Concern, by Robert Sack. I love the notion of a “Geographical Self,” the title of his first chapter.

Replacing Home: From Primordial Hut to Digital Network in Contemporary Art, by Jennifer Johung, is another book from the migration pile. I am enjoying the links Johung makes between our experiences with real and virtual places via different artistic practices. All last year I was obsessed with the word replace, so I am happy to find more connections between my personal interactions with “replacement” and broader notions in this book.

Another pile includes books on ecology. I am currently working on a new performance script that wants to interlace images of ecology and memory with a story of a female resistance fighter. It’s a big challenge, so this pile introduces me to new ideas, languages and possible structures that I can fold into performance. Right now I am reading Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, by William Bryant Logan. I have to confess that review quotes persuaded me to buy it: “…after you read Dirt you will never forget that the soil is alive and as full of stories as a Dickens novel.”

One of my favorite piles has books written by friends. Josh Garrett-Davis ’02 sent me his first book, Ghost Dances, a wonderful combination of personal memoir and social history about growing up on the Great Plains. Another is The Dance Claimed Me, a powerful and moving biography of choreographer Pearl Primus by dear friends Murray and Peggy Schwartz. I’m also reading Surface Tensions: Surgery, Bodily Boundaries, and the Social Self, by another dear friend, medical anthropologist Lenore Manderson from Australia. Speaking of Australia, I will read almost anything from Down Under.