Literature, in its limitless purposes, explores what it means to be human. The human experience sits at the center of most works of literature, helping us to understand not only others but ourselves.
In this first installment of the ‘Faculty Book Recs’ series, we reached out to Associate Professor Amy Brainer to find out what books she’s been reading and how they have impacted her. “My two favorite books of the past year are Dina Nayeri’s The Ungrateful Refugee and Katherine May’s Wintering,” said Brainer.
These two top picks are memoirs that include research by the authors, both of which were published within the last three years. The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri describes the experience of life as a refugee. Nayeri does so by weaving together stories of her own refugee experience, having fled Iran with her mother and brother at age 8, with stories of other refugees and asylum seekers. Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times by Katherine May is a personal narrative that examines the power of rest and retreat during times of seasonal sadness.
In reflecting on these two works, Associate Professor Amy Brainer shared some of her thoughts.
On The Ungrateful Refugee
“I read The Ungrateful Refugee along with more traditional academic books and articles as part of my own research on LGBTQ+ family migration. Two of the many, many things the book does well are expose charitability toward refugees – this posture of ‘you must be so grateful to be here’ – for its paternalism and indignities; and document the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual toll of having to produce and tell a particular kind of story over and over to justify a life. You will feel this book in your bones.”
On Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
“I read Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times because I was experiencing many elements of my own ‘winter’ – among them, a surge in the symptoms of my depression and struggling with things I used to do with ease, which many students have also described to me this year. Wintering isn’t about getting beyond these things so much as figuring out how to live sustainably with them. May incorporates reflections on periods of struggle and overwhelm with research on actual winter – the mechanics of hibernation, life in the Arctic. In her hands, the metaphor works. I’m sure I will return to this book many times.”
About Amy Brainer
Amy Brainer is associate professor and director of Women’s and Gender Studies and LGBTQ+ Studies at UM-Dearborn. She teaches courses like LGBTQ+ Religious Experience; Sexualities, Genders, and Bodies; and, new in fall 2022, Decolonizing LGBTQ+ Studies. She’s the author of Queer Kinship and Family Change in Taiwan, an award-winning book based on fieldwork and interviews throughout Taiwan with LGBTQ+ people and their family members. Her current research interests include LGBTQ+ family migration and LGBTQ+ organizing on commuter campuses like ours before and during the pandemic. She’s also working on a project about what it’s like to break up with a friend. Dr. Brainer is faculty advisor to the Pride student org.