Nerd of the Month for November

Spencer Lenfield, Program Assistant at Amherst ’13 and Oxford ’14, explains why Harry Potter would win against Iron Man, and illuminates the utility of the word, “efflorescence.”

Name: Spencer Lenfield, Harvard University ’12, Rhodes Scholar – Classics, University of Oxford

What are you doing now: Studying classics and philosophy at Oxford University

Relationship to Great Books: I was a PA at Amherst in 2013, and at Oxford in 2014.

Nerdy fun fact: The Rohello from the basilique de sacré-coeurman emperor Claudius was the last person we know of in antiquity who was a fluent speaker of the Etruscan language.

Nerdiest Attribute: I like to time my most common walks and then find the average time for each route, and also (here’s the nerdy part) the standard deviation.

Favorite book: Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

What are you reading right now? Marcel Proust’s The Guermantes Way

How many (and which) fictional/dead languages do you speak? I read Latin and Greek, with a passing interest in the syntax of High Valyrian. (But I have a terrible accent.)

Favorite/least favorite word? Right up there on the list of favorites is “efflorescence,” which is the Latinate equivalent of the words “blooming” or “blossoming.” Conversely, I think “puberty” is a sonically hideous word. Couldn’t we just call it “adolescence”—or, indeed, “efflorescence”—instead?

Which nerd in history would you most like to have a late brunch with? I’m tempted to say the late, great political philosopher Isaiah Berlin. But I suspect I might have more to talk about with John Keats.

Who was your first fictional crush? Susie Derkins from the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons.

Which author would you want to write your story? In theory, Virginia Woolf; in practice, Larissa MacFarquhar.

Who would win in a fight? Dumbledore’s Army vs. the Avengers I think it’s a matter of numbers. The proper way to solve this is by flagship warfare, with an aerial duel between Iron Man and Harry Potter on a broomstick. (I think that between the Invisibility Cloak and the vulnerability of arc reactors to Freezing Charms, Harry might just eke out a win with enough luck.)

If you could choose, in what fictional civilization/village/kingdom/room would you live? As a truly committed bibliophile, I’m not sure I can think of any better place to spend the remainder of my days than in Borges’s Library of Babel.

What question would you like to ask next month’s Nerd of the Month?

Hardcover or paperback, and why?

What are you most grateful for?

All of the good things, and maybe even a few of the bad.

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