Summer helpers Robert Erickson and Victoria Pipas sat down to trade blows and find out what makes an NER intern tick. Read on to see if their common Literary Studies major makes them more alike or different.
For Robert: What is your earliest literary memory?
Robert: What kind of question is this?
Victoria: Not just your earliest memory, but anything related to literature or writing in any form.
R: Okay, the first book I remember reading was this bizarre book about a little gingerbread man made by this little old lady and her husband in some nice little hamlet. He just had this voracious appetite: he ate the family and he ate the house before terrorizing the whole town. There’s definitely some psychoanalysis to be done there.
V: To you? Or to the book?
R: I don’t know if this book even exists or if I just dreamt it up. But I was about three years old, and I just remember this strange literary power captivating me. At the very end, he meets a ram standing on a cliff, and the ram says, “Close your eyes, I’ll jump into your mouth.” Except he jumps straight into his stomach because this guy is fifty feet tall at this point, and all the contents spill out.
V: Wow. So that was your formative literary memory.
R: It sticks out. We’ll go with that.
For Victoria: Do you have a favorite author, and if so, why isn’t it someone who was alive in the last four hundred years?
V: [cackles] Wow, I would have said someone who was alive in the last four hundred years.
R: Stay with the schtick.
V: Spenser’s my favorite author to read academically. I like The Faerie Queene because it’s Arthurian, and it’s the classical world, and it’s the British epic, and it’s medieval romance. It does a little bit of everything.
R: Hmmm, covers all your bases.
V: Yes, because I can’t make decisions and I don’t know what I want to specialize in. But my favorite recent author is John Irving—especially Cider House Rules, because it’s so New England, and it’s the most “me” book that I’ve read. It’s apple orchards and weird, lovable family drama, and, minus the incest, that feels like my childhood in some ways.
For Robert: OK, do you identify more with Texas or Vermont?
R: My identity certainly feels more Texan. Not in the ranch/country lifestyle way, but in the way that I think about my family and my interactions with other people, in the nuances of my worldview. Intellectually, I have more of a Vermont attitude—or at least a Middlebury, liberal arts one. Tied to this place, there’s a side of me that’s a lot more freewheeling, ambitious, perhaps eager. Which wasn’t necessarily absent when I was growing up, but it’s something that blossomed in my time here.
For Victoria: Do you think of your home state [New Hampshire] as the big spoon or the little spoon?
V: Oooh, well it’s bottom-heavy, isn’t it? I think of it as the big spoon. It has the stronger base.
R: So if there are two sides nestled in Victoria’s mind, which one is the big spoon and which one is the little spoon?
V: Well maybe Vermont is becoming the big spoon, just because this year it feels like I’m ready to move away from home. Vermont is this half of my mind that’s now the adult world—where I live by myself and form my own family—whereas NH is where I’ve come from. I think VT is taking up the bigger space in my mind now. Maybe VT has become the big spoon.
For Robert: Pancakes or waffles, and why?
R: Geez, a younger me would have certainly said pancakes, but I think as I’ve grown older, I’ve really developed an affinity for waffles. I don’t know, waffles are just so convenient for storing things. You can put peanut butter on waffles so easily . . .
V: A waffle is a vessel.
R: A waffle IS a vessel. And I never know when to stop with pancakes. I feel like with waffles, one is the norm, and two’s really pushing it. But pancakes, there’s no clear limit because they’re always different sizes . . . I guess I’ve come to appreciate the structure that a waffle provides.
For Victoria: You mentioned before that you really enjoyed your year abroad at Oxford. So what led you to become an expat?
V: England’s just great. It’s kind of a more temperate New England in a way, and I think it’s maybe because I can be the loud, friendly, extroverted American there, sort of like a novelty. There’s definitely a culture of formality there, which I think I can learn from. It’s nice to be unique, so maybe it’s just sort of an egoism thing. I also just love that everything is so old there.
R: So you like feeling new in an old place.
V: Yeah! I don’t want those young green shoots, I want the old oaks. And that’s what England is. Every town has a millennium-old Anglo-Saxon church, and I love that. I do think I’ll end up in New England, because I do value that new, young feeling. But I want to spend more time there with the old stuff.
For Robert: Which Shakespearean character would you want to be for a day?
R: For a day? If it’s just for a day, I’d go with Falstaff. I’d kind of get to just screw around and make fun of people, be boisterous and arrogant, flirt with hedonism, but then feel appropriately guilty about it—and be done after a day. I think it would be a very easy transition.
V: No consequences.
R: I think that’s what going to college is like for a lot of people.
V: [laughs] There’s a reason Falstaff’s the most popular Shakespearean character. Everyone who’s been to college identifies with him.
R: Which also makes me think that’s not a super fun answer. I really do love the Lancastrian tetralogy, though—that’s probably my favorite Shakespeare. Prince Hal would be so much fun . . . I could also be really mysterious and say I want to be the Changeling Boy from Midsummer Night’s Dream, because he’s only ever alluded to, but he’s kind of the main character in a way.
V: He’s a symbol.
R: And I like to think of my life in symbolic terms.
V: “I want to be the Changeling Boy from Midsummer Night’s Dream . . .” said no one ever. The Changeling Boy—he’s kind of a sexual object, isn’t he?
R: He’s a lot of things. He’s a changeling, you know, so a very volatile symbol there.
For Victoria: Getting more personal. Describe your ideal date. Unless it’s dinner and a movie—if that’s the case, I don’t want to hear about it.
V: Okay, my ideal date would be that first, we met in the library.
R: Oh my god. Do you stay in the library? Do you ever make it out?
V: We are in the library, and I have to approach him. Well, not necessarily. But probably. I approach him. No, we definitely make it out of the library. We could come back to the library. No, we make it out of the library. But we spend a significant amount of time in the library, over the course of . . . This is going too far.
R: This is a romance. This is your ideal romance. This is something quite different than what I was asking.
V: I do think an ideal date has to be productive. It probably would involve some sort of challenging physical activity. So like hiking, maybe, or learning some type of new skill, like sailing . . .
R: Do you need to be the more athletically adept person in this outdoorsy scenario?
V: No, not necessarily! I’m definitely looking for athleticism. So I don’t need to be the more athletic. I don’t think I even—no, this is too much, this is going too deep.
R: Write that down, folks. Be athletic, and find her in the library. Or let her find you there.
For Robert: Okay. How tall are you exactly? And what’s one benefit of height that you would never want to give up?
R: I am exactly six-foot-six and . . . five-eighths, I don’t know.
V: It would be cool if it were six-six-six…
R: I’m between six-six and six-seven. Six-six-six… Well, five-eighths is close to .66, you know. Yeah, 6’6.666”.
V: Yep, I like that. The number of the beast.
R: Yes. But a benefit that I would never give up . . . There are a few. I don’t really have people bothering me to steal or borrow my clothes for the most part, which is nice. Crowds are pretty easy to handle—concerts and things like that. And apparently they say that for every inch you’re above six feet tall you make 1,000 more dollars a year, on average. So that’s a free $6,666 . . . and 66 cents that I can take to the bank every year. Although that hasn’t quite happened yet. In a few years I might be able to say that. But at the moment . . . let’s stick with crowds and clothes.
For Victoria: All right, aside from the generous benefits and retirement plan, what do you enjoy most about working at New England Review?
V: Flexible hours. No, actually I like the quiet literary environment. And I also like learning about the literary world, because it’s a different side of literature. It’s sort of like the flip side: you’ve got these old books stacked in the library and then you’ve got this changing, volatile world of submitting and getting published. And I think I tend to under-appreciate that side of it, because I tend to put emphasis on published, respected, anthologized works, and the other side of it is that a lot of these authors went through this process first.
For Robert: What daily ritual is indispensable to your life?
R: Oh my goodness. No. I don’t have daily rituals. Okay, eating is indispensable, because if I don’t eat . . . Putting on clothes, I don’t know, that’s mostly indispensable . . . Do I even have daily rituals? I mean . . . indispensable to what?
V: To daily life.
R: To daily life…
V: To your daily life.
R: You know, I kind of have a habit of listening to music when I go to bed. And I find I wake up in the middle of the night being strangled by my headphones, kind of tossing and listening to something quite different than what I set out listening to. Generally some sort of classical music to help me fall asleep. So I don’t know if that’s necessarily indispensable, but it is a habit, and when I don’t have music I kind of go off thinking . . . and unless I’m really tired I can’t go to sleep. Indispensable? Somewhat. Relatively indispensable—kind of an oxymoron.
For Victoria: What is your least favorite book? One that you just thoroughly regretted having read. Maybe not regret, but just said that, you know . . . could’ve done without it.
V: I don’t, like, allow myself to read trash novels . . . I didn’t like A Passage to India [by E. M. Forster], which I read for my freshman seminar, particularly much, but I don’t really regret reading it. It just didn’t do anything for me and I didn’t necessarily learn anything from it . . . I just can’t think of anything I’ve read that was just generally bad.
R: That’s fair.
V: I also don’t like Keats that much. That’s not a book. But I tried to force myself to read Keats and I just couldn’t do it and I just didn’t like it.
R: Too sappy?
V: Too sappy? [pause] He’s just young, he’s just this young promising poet but I kind of feel like that’s all he was.
R: It’s not his fault he died young.
V: Yeah, I know. But I was also at the end of my time at Oxford and I didn’t want to be reading Keats, I wanted to be playing outside and it was like, “Why didn’t Keats die sooner? Then I wouldn’t have to read this poetry.”
R: Oh no . . . Victoria, no . . . You’re gonna step on a lot of toes there.
V: I know. Keats just doesn’t do it for me. I was disappointed. But maybe I’m just immature. So that could be my own fault.
For Robert: What book is currently next to your bedside table?
R: Right now? I can never read just one book at a time. There are a few that I’m working my way through—currently on the forefront of my mind is Light in August. It’s really lovely. I also started Thus Spoke Zarathustra.
V: Oh, wow. That’s light reading. Casual.
R: Yeah . . . That was . . . something I was reading. It was being read. By me.
V: Isn’t that like a philosophical doctrine?
R: Sort of? Nietzsche’s Bible, in a way. Not a Bible, I guess it would just be a Gospel – and it’s really a parody in a lot of ways. There’s this prophet-type figure called Zarathustra who’s up on a mountain and is like, “I’m gonna come down—I’m like a bee that has too much honey, too much pollen, and I’m ready to share it with the world.” And he comes down and finds out that the people aren’t ready yet for what he has to say.
V: That’s not the mindless read, I hope. Is Faulkner the mindless read?
R: Faulkner’s not the mindless reading, but they complement each other, because Faulkner has less of an agenda than most. Faulkner just likes to tell a good story, whereas Nietzsche quite clearly has some tricks up his sleeve. I also don’t even have a physical bedside table, so that’s a huge lie. Those books (among others) are in my backpack right now in case I have enough time to finish all of them in one sitting. Which is absolutely unfeasible, that would never happen. But I’m afraid of getting caught without one.
V: Yeah, you never know when you might end up on a deserted island.
R: Or a bad date or something.
V: Yep, in the library on a bad date – that’s the worst.