×

What Are You Reading? Librarian Laura Braunstein Picks Up Fiction, Past and Future

  • Laura Braunstein, of Lebanon, is the Digital Humanities Librarian at Dartmouth College and a fan of graphic novels and speculative fiction, for its "what-if" approach and engagement with politics, diversity and inclusion. "One of the things I like about a lot of the writers, especially writers of color and women is that they're imagining a future with different social relationships," said Braunstein at Baker Library in Hanover, N.H., Monday, March 5, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Laura Braunstein, of Lebanon, assembled a crossword puzzle with Erik Agard that was published in the Sunday New York Times in December. The Digital Humanities Librarian at Dartmouth College keeps her coffee in a crossword mug at her desk in the Baker-Berry Library in Hanover, N.H., Monday, March 5, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, March 09, 2018

Among her duties as the digital humanities librarian at Dartmouth College’s Baker-Berry Library, Laura Braunstein helps student and faculty researchers find books on topics ranging from art and architecture to medieval and Renaissance studies.

Then there’s the online guide (researchguides.dartmouth.edu/reading) she compiled under “Reading for Fun,” with links to audio books, eBooks, best-seller lists, the library catalog and the stacks.

Which raises the question we’re going to be asking Upper Valley residents from all walks of life once a month on the Close-Up section’s Books page: What are you reading these days?

“In one of the book exchange boxes we keep around Lebanon, I found a copy of War and Peace not long ago,” Braunstein, who also is a trustee of the Lebanon library system, said recently. “I’ve read a chapter here and a chapter there, and I think I’m up to about eight. … And I’ve got Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See underway.”

At a far remove from historical fiction, Braunstein, who lives in Lebanon with her husband and their two children, is setting a brisk pace reading speculative fiction, what she describes as “a $5 term for science fiction and fantasy that engage a little more intensely with issues like the environment and social upheaval.”

Braunstein is particularly drawn to series such as N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy — “What would a future, a culture look like after undergoing a great environmental tragedy?” — and Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice trilogy — “an invented universe, a human diaspora in space.”

Most recently, Braunstein read Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York2140, which envisions rising sea levels leaving most of Manhattan underwater — not such a stretch, after 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and other recent disasters linked to climate change.

“If that happens, the question becomes, ‘What would life be like?’ ” Braunstein said. “ ‘What technologies would we have to invent to stay in that world, to survive?’ ”

Growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s and early 1980s, Braunstein plunged early into reading the likes of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie series and Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry — “anything about a girl who has to solve problems.” Eventually her mother, a social scientist, introduced her to fantasy fiction, particularly by woman authors.

“Like a lot of kids, I read all of the Lord of the Rings books, which some scholars say was a response in part to the devastation of industrial development on the environment in Great Britain,” Braunstein said. “As much as I liked Tolkien, I was drawn to writers like Ursula LeGuin. Lately I’ve been talking with my daughter about Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.” A movie version, starring Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling, opens today.

It was easier fitting books of all kinds into her schedule during her childhood and even into her undergraduate years at Brown University, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, than it is now. In addition to her duties at Dartmouth, at home and as a library trustee, Braunstein is a devotee of crossword puzzles. She picked up the habit from her grandfather, who used puzzles to learn English after emigrating from eastern Europe, and who introduced Braunstein to the exercise to improve her vocabulary.

Braunstein made the leap from solving puzzles to building them a few years ago with guidance from Dartmouth then-undergraduate Andrew Kingsley, whom she’d seen in the Baker-Berry reference department assembling puzzles that wound up in The New York Times.

In December, The Sunday New York Times published a puzzle that Braunstein built with veteran cruciverbalist Erik Agard. Titled “Full-Body Cast,” the puzzle hides parts of the body in the names of movie stars. An example: The answer to “Batman Actress, 1967-68” is Eartha Kitt, which contains the word “ear.”

Now Braunstein is part of a network of devotees who tweet and blog about the science and the art of building puzzles, and who compete in puzzle tournaments. She said she’d gladly take another swing at a puzzle for The Times if she and a collaborator find the right formula.

“It’s one thing to do the daily Times crossword over coffee first thing in the morning,” Braunstein said. “Constructing takes a different kind of bandwidth, thinking of themes and so forth. It’s something I’ll do in the evenings to unwind. I’ve never been that successful with crafts, so this is my equivalent of quilting.”

Sometimes, Braunstein even finds a seam in her schedule to indulge in Victorian literature, which she studied for her doctorate from Northwestern University.

“I still do like a sprawling, 800-page novel, just to lose yourself in for a while,” Braunstein said. “I’ll read on a Kindle if I’m riding in a car because it doesn’t make me carsick. Otherwise, in my job, I look at a computer all day. When I read, I like to have a print book.”

To recommend Upper Valley residents, from any walk of life and line of work, for an interview about what they’re reading, email David Corriveau at dcorriveau@vnews.com or call 603-727-3304.