My mother, Alice, is a retired librarian and my late father, John, was an English professor and Shakespearean scholar. It’s fair to say that reading was highly prioritized in my family—which actually got a boost from my father’s father, who worked every day of his adult life on a drawbridge on the Quinnipiac River in Connecticut. My grandfather, Peter—who died before I was born—saw reading, learning, and education for his sons—his only daughter spent her life institutionalized—as a huge priority in life.
My father, unusual, I think, for his profession, rarely talked much at home about his work teaching English, which he did for forty-eight years at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. He was much more comfortable chatting with his sons about the Pittsburgh Pirates or bridge hands or local news. He was usually interested in talking about what my brothers or I were doing rather than in his work. He was, as I perceived him, a very non-judgmental person. Part of being human—what we like to share with others—often involves trying (sometimes with little success) to sway those around us toward this direction or that, but that was not his way at all. He genuinely enjoyed and loved people as they were, without criticism or reserve. Whatever I got out of him from his experiences with literature was more often than not by way of prodding.
My father thought that the Shakespearean sonnets were the greatest pieces of English literature ever conceived. He loved Hamlet and thought it was probably Shakespeare’s greatest play. But he also thought King Lear was its equal. He thought Dostoevsky was the greatest novelist who ever lived. As a child, I can remember novels like The Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot lying on the couch or piano bench—afraid to even touch them. Even to this day it is difficult for me to pick up a novel by Dostoevsky without feeling some sense of awe and trepidation. Maybe that’s irrational for an adult. I’m not really sure.
The best novel, my father ventured to say, was Ulysses by James Joyce. I don’t know why that surprised me. Over the years he had read and taught volumes of complicated and high-level literature, and I wondered why he singled this one particular item out. Maybe it was the Irish in my father—I can’t say for sure—but he conveyed to me that it was the one literary accomplishment that he couldn’t figure out how the author (Joyce) did it. That stuck with me over the years. It caused me—unconsciously, perhaps—to join a Ulysses reading group years later to try to understand and to enjoy on a minimal basis Joyce’s enigmatic novel.
My own background is in mathematics and physics and I have been interested in puzzle forms in my own writing. That is something I like to search out and explore. I think it is still a wide-open area for fiction writers.
------------Brian S. Hart is a first time author with a background in physics. He has a Master’s Degree in Education from Westfield State College and is a teacher in multi-cultural education. He is interested in mathematical structures and puzzle forms within experimental writing.