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What Are You Reading? Kellyann Falkenberg Wolfe Turns to Books for Work and Play

  • Kellyann Falkenburg Wolfe, of South Royalton, Vt., works at the Royalton Memorial Library in South Royalton, on May 30, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Minister Kellyann Falkenberg Wolfe delivers her sermon during a service at the East Barnard Church in East Barnard, Vt., Sunday, June 11, 2017. (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
Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a busman’s holiday as time off “spent in following or observing the practice of one’s usual occupation.”

For their next edition, maybe the editors should post a thumbnail photo of South Royalton resident Kellyann Falkenberg Wolfe next to the definition.

Better still, they could coin a new category altogether, for a person who picks up mysteries, science fiction and speculative fiction, graphic novels and memoirs, after setting aside the mostly scholarly books she indexes for a living.

And they might need a subcategory for a person who also combs through theological treatises for material for the sermons she delivers on summer Sundays at the East Barnard Church.

“A lot of my reading I do for work,” Wolfe, 41, said last Friday afternoon at the second-floor apartment in South Royalton to which she and her husband, Tim Wolfe, and their long-haired black cat, Corva, recently moved. “I’m either reading it because I get paid to or I’m doing it for my church work.

“What I read for enjoyment I do over breakfast, over lunch and before bed.”

Among the mystery/whodunnit writers whose work Wolfe and her husband enjoy are Alexander McCall Smith with his series about African woman detectives and Jean-Luc Bannalec’s novels set on the Brittany coast of France, where a Paris detective named Dupin solves murders.

“My prediction is that pretty soon, all of the local libraries will be carrying them,” Wolfe said of the Bannalec novels.

Since moving to South Royalton earlier this spring, Wolfe has been pleased to find that the local library, a half-mile walk from home, “does not neglect speculative fiction and science fiction the way other small libraries do. They have not just mysteries, which a lot of small libraries focus on, but a good smattering of other genres. They’re much more thoughtful about offering a diversity of reading.”

At the top of Wolfe’s bedside pile of books last week was Binti: Home, the latest in Nnedi Okorafor’s series of Afro-futuristic novellas that follow the intergalactic adventures of a young woman from an ethnic group on Earth that Okorafor models on the indigenous Himba people of northern Namibia.

“What I love about her stories and others in the genre is that they imagine a future for people of color, not as constrained by the system of injustices we have now,” Wolfe said. “And I find science fiction generally to be more exciting, because of the possibilities, the kind of future we could make.”

On Wolfe’s coffee table last week awaited Wise Child, the late British author Monica Furlong’s 1987 speculative-fiction novel in which the 9-year-old title character, in a remote Scottish village, learns about her superpowers while struggling to balance her loyalties to her long-lost, recently-returned mother, a witch named Maeve, and her mentor, a sorcerer-healer named Juniper.

“I particularly enjoy the fiction that mixes earthly reality with existing mythologies, because they’re so inclusive,” Wolfe said. “It’s just such a fun, ‘What if?’ ”

Wolfe, who grew up in Ohio and moved to Vermont with her husband in 2007, completed her doctorate in biblical studies from Union Theological Seminary in 2011, when the economy — and with it college endowments — was still recovering from the Great Recession.

“The plan was to go into teaching,” she said. “But at that time jobs were just evaporating in academia.”

So Wolfe founded Hiraeth Indexing, for which she reads and then assembles detailed page references that go into the backs of scholarly and trade texts. She specializes in philosophy, indigenous and black studies, religion, literature and environmental studies, some which make for long slogs.

“I indexed one about forensic anthropology not long ago,” Wolfe recalled. “That was in November, when it was dark and cold.”

Others offer enlightenment, such as 2013’s Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch, and Irish Whiskey.

“I learned so much from that, including the fact that a Jewish woman in ancient Alexandria invented the alembic still,” Wolfe said. “It was so much fun to read.”

More recently, Wolfe has been indexing — and finding revelation — in Joshua A. Berman’s Created Equal: How the Bible Broke with Ancient Political Thought.

“I’m using it in my sermon series this summer,” Wolfe said. “It documents efforts to create a more inclusive society. It’s revolutionary to think that way in a culture that is very stratified. I think the Bible is way more subversive than people think. In many ways it’s a miracle that people in that time had such imagination.

“I think that’s why I love science fiction. We see outcomes we couldn’t have imagined, that somehow come out of what we’re working to change.”

In the meantime, Wolfe is wondering what will happen next to Evangeline O’Neill, the teenager who navigates the supernatural shadow world of 1920s Manhattan, while simultaneously dealing with issues of race, gender and medical ethics, in Libba Bray’s Diviners series of young adult novels.

“I just finished No. 3 in the series, Before the Devil Breaks You, and we’re waiting for the fourth,” Wolfe said. “We don’t know when it’s coming out. Nobody knows when.”

In the meantime, she has more than enough books to keep her occupied, for work or for a busman’s holiday.

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