Hawk Book Talk: An Interview With Ms. Bouler and Ms. Millmann
By MIKAELA ADWAR and EVAN SILVERA
“By the Book” is a particular highlight of the “The New York Times Book Review” and has fostered widespread interest in the reading habits and tastes of some of the world’s most prominent figures. This feature has inspired the second installment of “Hawk Book Talk.” We interviewed English teacher Ms. Bouler and art teacher Ms. Millmann regarding their literary preferences.
What was the last truly great book you read? When was the last time you said to someone, “You absolutely must read this book”?
Millmann: The last book I just read and told my niece she absolutely had to read is “Germinal” by Émile Zola. It’s a book about a mining family in France, and it’s just the most incredible book. It’s really very powerful, very visceral, very deep.
Bouler: I recently read “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a historical fiction about a 19th century botanist and I was fascinated. I couldn’t put it down. I have repeatedly recommended it and purchased it for people.
Disappointed, overrated, just not good: Which book(s) did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t?
Millmann: “Great Expectations” for me.
Bouler: Same, yeah. I had great expectations.
Millmann: I think also part of the issue is that we see things in film first as opposed to reading them, and I was exposed to the film. The same thing with “Oliver [Twist].” But the book that I really had a whole different take on was “Moby Dick” by Herman Melville. I saw the film. I couldn’t stand the film, so I picked up the book and it was fascinating. I could not put that book down.
Bouler: Well, I was torn between “Moby Dick” and Dickens. For me, I like something a little more snappy, a little more uptown funk.
Millmann: When I open a book and I start reading it – I always say this about Émile Zola’s writing, and I’m sorry I keep going back to him because I really love it – I can almost smell where I am, I can taste and see where I am as I’m reading it. After a while, I don’t notice the pages and I just am in their environment and in their world.
What was the last book to make you cry?
Bouler: I changed this question because a book I remember really having an emotional reaction to was “House of Mirth.” I started reading it one morning many years ago and 24 hours later I finished it and wept. I then wrote my master’s thesis on it. It was that powerful.
Millmann: I just finished reading “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” My great grandparents lived a very similar kind of life, going from place to place to place, because they couldn’t afford rent and troubles like that. I just think it was really beautifully written, and I love it from Francie’s perspective.
What were your favorite books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero from one of those books? Is there one book you wish all children would read?
Bouler: I love the “Little House” series. I made my kids read it because Laura Ingalls Wilder had a corn cob as a doll named Susan.
Millmann: You know, it’s funny. When I was a little girl, my mother worked really really hard. At night time she would sit us all down in the bedroom against the dresser. She would read every single one of those books. Three years ago, I had a great opportunity to go to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s house when I was in Branson, Missouri. It was just the highlight of the whole summer. I got to meet people who actually knew Wilder and her daughter. It was pretty special to see that.
Bouler: I think all children should read anything by Roald Dahl. He’s the best. I mean, the vocabulary, the fun, the imagination. Any book by Roald Dahl is brilliant.
What’s your favorite literary genre? Any guilty pleasures?
Millmann: I like to read Horatio Alger books. Horatio Alger was an author who wrote about boys and girls who lived on the street in New York. It was called a dime novel series. It was just a lot of stories about street urchins and people who sold papers. He was a really interesting author. Because I live in New York City, I walk the same streets as the characters he wrote about.
Bouler: I read a lot of historical fiction. Any era. The plague, you know. Fascinating.
Millmann: Anybody’s account of the Titanic, I’ll be reading that.
Imagine you are hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?
Bouler: I’d like to invite Virginia Woolf.
Millmann: I would invite Mr. Zola, of course, Mr. Melville, of course, and Ms. Wilder, please, along with her daughter Rose Wilder, who was an interesting writer as well.
Bouler: You know, John Milton might be fun at a party.
If you had to name one book that made you who you are today, what would it be?
Millmann: It was a biography about the life of Georgia O’Keeffe. I read it when I was in college, and I really got to understand the struggles of what life was like for someone growing up pre-1960s who wanted to make a name for herself. She was very passionate about her work. The struggles that she went through to just do her art and to walk through the world with her head held high were particularly inspiring.
Bouler: How old were you when you read that?
Millmann: I was twenty-one.
Bouler: I read “Shock of the New” by Robert Hughes when I was maybe fourteen. It sent me on a course to study art history.
Millmann: It’s amazing, the power of one book. The power of the book.