Nerds of the Month: BFF Edition

Tatie & Martina Pic

This month features Great Books Stanford’s resident BFFs: Tatie Balabanis (Stanford ’19) and Martina Lentino (UChicago ’19). Both Tatie and Martina hail from Miami, and their friendship began in a fated gym class during their freshman year of high school.

  1. Names: Tatiana Balabanis and Martina Lentino
  2. Relationship to Great Books:
    • Tatie: I was a camper at Great Books Stanford from the summer of 2010 to the summer of 2014. This past summer I had the absolute privilege to see the other side of GBSP and was an intermediate PA again at the Stanford campus (I spend 100% of my time here).
    • Martina: I was a PA at Stanford in the summer of 2016 and I loved it!
  3. Life Status:
    • Tatie: I’m currently a sophomore at Stanford studying psychology while completing the pre-med track. One of my favorite classes was a philosophy course called “Can good people like bad music?” which interrogated the objectivity of good music. We also had “the great Kanye debate” which may have been the highlight of my entire debating career. I am also on the rugby team here, a sport which I picked up just for funsies when I started college and I am now competing in nationally.
    • Martina: Right now, I’m an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago majoring in Art History and minoring in Human Rights! I love going to the Art Institute of Chicago as often as I can. It’s a really beautiful museum with a spectacular collection, and there’s always something new to see or that I missed in the past. As a student, I get free admission to most museums in the Chicago area, so it’s really great!
  4. What is your nerdy fun fact?
    • Tatie: My roommate brought home a giant pinecone the other day and gave me naming rights so I named him Geoffrey “Spike Jones” Chaucer. She was far less amused than I was.
    • Martina: My nerdy fun fact is that I know the full scores of an embarrassing amount of musicals by heart, and I especially know the “Phantom of the Opera” because in middle school I listened to it so much that it was my ringtone (back when ringtones were a thing).
  5. What’s your nerdiest attribute?
    • Martina: I genuinely have a great time facilitating and being a part of academic discussions, both in class and in daily life. It makes me really, really happy to talk about interesting things and new ideas with people who are willing to bring more to the table.
  6. Favorite book?
    • Tatie: Catcher in the Rye. I read it in a few hours the other day.
    • Martina: My favorite book is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Highly recommend.
  7. Which nerd in history would you most like to have dinner with?
    • Martina: I would love to have lunch with Laura Mulvey. In 1975, she wrote a groundbreaking text through a Freudian lens about the “male” gaze when regarding women in cinema that helped to condition how we think about many postmodern works of art today. I would love to discuss her research and how she came to the conclusions she did.
  8. Who was your first fictional crush?
    • Martina: He wasn’t my first fictional crush, but it’s pretty embarrassing and I’ll just put it on here because I’m sure many can relate: Four from the Divergent series. What a man.
  9. What’s your favorite thing about Stanford?
    • Tatie: All of my professors are so unapologetically dedicated to their respective fields of study and that just makes the learning process that much more enjoyable. Also, finding out three weeks into the quarter that your professor is a Nobel Prize winner is pretty cool.
  10. What’s your favorite thing about Chicago?
    • Martina: My favorite part about Chicago is the ready availability of visual and performing arts, pretty much always, with countless museums and small professional theaters. And I absolutely adore UChicago because it’s home to some of the most interesting, driven, and intelligent people that I’ve ever met. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t set high standards for themselves. I also have always felt very comfortable at UChicago; whether in being myself at all times around everyone, in my surroundings in the city, or in a classroom setting.



Nerds of the Month: Zak Lutz & Dan Ackerman of UChicago

Zak & Dan collage

Meet UChicago students Zak Lutz and Dan Ackerman, our tag-team duo for a special double issue of the Nerd of the Month! Need any reassurance of their collective nerdiness? Take a peek at question #8, where they both cite the UChicago library as their favorite aspect of university life.

1. Names: Zak Lutz & Dan Ackerman

2. Relationship to Great Books:

  • Zak: I was a Program Assistant at Amherst in 2016, and I’ll be back as Lead PA in 2017!
  • Dan: I was a Great Books camper on the Stanford campus from 2007 to 2011, and this is my first year returning as a Program Assistant at UChicago. I’m psyched!

2. Life status:

  • Zak: I am currently a Master’s student at the University of Chicago, studying Social Sciences with the future ambition of becoming a professor. My favorite class this quarter is Florentine Political Thought — it’s really curious how they attempted to reform their government as “humanism” evolved over each generation.
  • Dan: I graduated from the University of Chicago last spring with a Bachelor’s in International Studies, and I am currently a tutor for an organization in Chicago. My favorite classes while I was at the U of C included an anthropology intensive study on “Urban Africa” and a core class my first year called “Power, Identity, and Resistance.” Histories of competing ideas inspire me more than anything. My biggest extra-curricular commitment at college was the improv and sketch comedy group Off-Off Campus. I often say that Off-Off was my “real major.”

3. Nerdy fun fact:

  • Zak: My nerdiest attribute is definitely my love of chess. I play more chess than I should.
  • Dan: I named my cat Riker after Commander William T. Riker of the USS Enterprise-D (and later E).

4. Favorite book:

  • Zak: I really hate this question. I’ve read Perks of Being a Wallflower quicker than any book, I’ve read Genealogy of Morals more times than any other book, and Being and Time keeps me awake most often.
  • Dan: White Noise by Don DeLillo.

5. Which nerd in history would you most like to have dinner with?

  • Zak: Look, according to all the historical evidence, the dude ruined every dinner party he ever attended. But, at the same time, Socrates made every dinner party mind-shattering.
  • Dan: Edward Said.

6. Who was your first fictional crush?

  • Zak: I can’t remember to be honest, but it must have been Hermione right? Even as a little guy that combination of brains and confidence had to make my young heart flutter.
  • Dan: Jesse Tuck of Tuck Everlasting (I never got the message out of that book that the teacher wanted; I’d drink the water in a heartbeat).

7. What’s your favorite thing about Chicago?

  • Zak: The beauty — Chicago is an underratedly gorgeous city. The architecture mixes the modern and old school flawlessly. The lakeview backgrounds everything. The parks, the fountains, the art galleries.
  • Dan: The wide range of theater to see has to be my favorite thing about Chicago.

8. What’s your favorite thing about being a student at UChicago?

  • Zak: I love the library system!! Not a joke — they’ve got an exchange with two library networks and a solid collection on campus. I really appreciate how easily I can find super obscure books for research.
  • Dan: I really do love the Regenstein Library.

Nerd of the Month: May 2016

Meet Michael Vaclav, Shakespearean monologue expert, Great Books Eagle Scout, Amherst Lead PA, and our final Nerd of the Month before camp!


Michael at his recent graduation from the University of Notre Dame.

Name: Michael Vaclav

Life Status: I am currently attending the University of Notre Dame, which is located in scenic South Bend, Indiana. I will be continuing my education at Notre Dame as a grad student this fall, but this semester my favorite class was Joyce, Beckett, and the Irish Voice.  It was a comprehensive look at the works of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett and how a distinctly Irish voice comes through their writing.  I loved the class so much because my professor is one of the premier Beckett performers in the world and he brings an incredible passion for and knowledge of the pieces we read.  Unrelated, but a fun fact, he has also been featured in several movies and television shows, including Braveheart and Game of Thrones.

Relationship to Great Books:  I have been with the Amherst program as a PA for the last two summers, and this year I will be Lead PA for the Intermediate Program.

Nerdy fun fact: If I were at Hogwarts, my house would be Slytherin.  Not many people think this is a good thing, but I embrace it.

Nerdiest attribute: Breaking into random Shakespeare quotes or spontaneously reenacting scenes from Broadway shows like Les Miserables

Favorite book: The Lord of the Rings (specifically The Silmarillion)

Currently reading:  Most of my current reading is tied up in school related assignments, so I’ll suffice it to say the Complete Works of Shakespeare, Ulysses, Molloy, Waiting for Godot, a few works on Christology, some works on the philosophy of film, and the MLA Handbook

Which nerd in history would you most like to have a late brunch with?: I’m not sure if this is equivalent, but I would love to get a pint with J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis at The Eagle and Child in Oxford…


I would love to get a late brunch with Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  Super technical Physics isn’t my strongest subject, but I love the ideas behind astrophysics, and I feel that he could explain everything to me in a comprehensible and fun way that would make for excellent brunch conversation.


Julius Michael Caesar, teaching his Shakespearean monologues Literature Elective.

Which author would you want to write your story?: I would love for Alexandre Dumas to write my life story, because I feel that he would pay attention to all the smallest details in my life that lead me to where I am today.  I would love to read the story of my life through that lens.

Can the movie ever be better than the book?: Yes. Mary Poppins. Case closed.

Do you prefer hardcover books or paperback, and why?: I love reading a paperback, because I feel there is less pressure to keep them pristine.  However, when I collect a book I love with the intention of keeping it forever, I always go for a hardcover.  There is just something so magical and timeless about a hardcover book.  It is inexplicable for me, but I feel that a hardcover lends a certain amount of authority to a book and the story within.

Who would your Lord of the Rings spirit character be? Bilbo, because he just goes along, does his thing, and lives his life as best he can.  When he is out of his comfort zone, he makes the best of it, and he never shrinks from a task that is asked of him.


Nerd of the Month: April 2016

Meet Eve Houghton, early modernist scholar, rare books geek, pied piper of Senior Seminar 2015, recent birthday girl (Happy Birthday, Eve!), and April’s Nerd of the Month!

EveHeadshotName: Eve Houghton

Current life status:  I’m a junior at Yale University, studying English and working as a curatorial assistant for early modern books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. This semester, I’m studying at the University of Oxford.

Special Projects: I’m currently curating a small exhibit at the library on early modern annotations and marginalia–I’m particularly drawn to the figure of the recalcitrant or even irritable reader, so it’s fun looking for vituperative annotations at the Beinecke! (Sample from a sixteenth century reader: “in his great chronicle ye shall find great lyes.”) I’m also helping with some production tasks on a forthcoming edited collection, which I’m really excited about.

Relationship to Great Books: Program Assistant, Amherst College, Summer 2015! (And one half of the Senior Seminar PA team “Greve” [Greg + Eve] to an amazingly talented group of graduated high school seniors, including past Nerd of the Month Diva Parekh.)

Nerdy fun fact: I taught a class on rare books and manuscripts for Great Books last summer, if that counts! We looked at some medieval manuscripts and early printed books at Amherst College Special Collections, and we had a “traveling scriptorium” day where we practiced writing with a quill pen and parchment.

Nerdiest attribute:  I think probably…a sort of driving, propulsive obsession with knowing as much as possible about fairly niche topics? What excites me in the classroom is the chance to focus in-depth on a particular text, or to really get to know the critical conversation. I’m typically not very interested in taking classes outside the English department, for example. But I recognize that this is not the case for most people—I have some friends with really wide-ranging academic interests, and I’ve always admired that, because it’s so different from my own brand of nerdery.

Favorite book: O cruel world! Why would you ask this?? This is probably cheating, but I think I can answer if I divide it into three categories:

Fiction: I love all the novels of Hilary Mantel—Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies are probably her best-known books, and are wonderful. But if I could only keep one, I would choose A Place of Greater Safety, which is about the French Revolution.

Scholarly: Margreta de Grazia’s Shakespeare Verbatim and Bill Sherman’s Used Books are two books that changed the way I think about the history of editing and reading, respectively, and are also just really entertaining and lively. I wish I could write academic prose (or prose, period) like them!

Drama: Shakespeare’s Richard II—I could ramble on embarrassingly about this play, so I’ll just say that I love it.

Eve1Currently reading: I’m currently working my way through a stack of twentieth century editions of the Earl of Rochester’s poetry for an essay project on the Rochester manuscripts at the Beinecke, and I’m also halfway through Meredith McGill’s American Literature and the Culture of Reprinting to try to brush up on antebellum book history for another essay. On the non-academic front, I’m reading Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? (Thank you to fellow PA Kaitlyn for this suggestion!)

First fictional crush: Lord Peter Wimsey! (Of the 1930s detective novels by Dorothy L. Sayers.) An English aristocrat who collects rare books, wears a monocle, and solves crimes? Mere mortals cannot compete, I’m afraid.

Which author would you want to write your story?: Hmmm…I think I would commission Alexander Pope to write scathing denunciations of my literary enemies in artful couplets.

Can the movie ever be better than the book?: Yes, absolutely! Tom Ford’s adaptation of Christopher Isherwood’s A Single Man is one of my favorite movies ever, and I love the Ang Lee Sense and Sensibility.

Hardcover or paperback?: Oh, gosh, I can’t decide. Can I cast a vote for early modern stab-stitched bindings?


Nerd of the Month: February 2016

Meet Kaitlyn, indy publisher, GBSP’s Best Dressed at Every Dance award recipient, veteran Amherst PA, and February’s Nerd of the Month.

KBurdTeachingName: Kaitlyn Burd, but you can call me K.Burd

Current life status:  I graduated from Kenyon College in May. Now I live in Louisville with my friends Krista and John, a dog named Artemis, and a three-legged cat named Ric Flair.  We don’t have internet at our house, but we do have a theremin.

Current project: At the moment, I am drinking a large cup of coffee. This might seem like a quotidian detail, but it can be read into — as can the magazine I work for, Paper Darts! We just relaunched our website; so I’ve been busy reading submissions and writing for the PD blog. I also tutor high school students. This is very engaging, but don’t be jealous! It could never fill the space that Great Books leaves in my heart at the end of every summer.

Relationship to Great Books:  Bride married to amazement (and veteran Program Assistant at Amherst).

Nerdy fun fact: I once was a historical reenactment actor for the Jane Austen Festival in Louisville. This was unintentional. I had volunteered to work the Festival, thinking that I would be asked to hand out fliers or to tell people not to touch the sheep on the property of the house where the event was held. Only when I showed up at the Festival was I instructed to go up to the attic of the house — stocked with period clothing — to find a dress that would fit me. All of this was made better by the fact that I had cajoled my friend Haley into volunteering at the festival with me. After we spent the adequate amount of time trying on men’s riding breeches and top hats, we donned our calico dresses a spent the day circulating among Festival guests. I was completely out of my element. Most of the people attending the festival had made their own costumes months in advance — and they looked good — and never broke from their British accents. But it was still ridiculously fun, and Haley and I learned that late-18th century dresses are pretty comfortable — so long as you leave the corsets behind!

KBurdMustacheNerdiest attribute: I love being read to and reading aloud to more than I love most things. I would rather have a friend read me a story than watch a movie with that friend.

Favorite book:  The impossible question! The English Patient, In the Skin of a Lion, and Secular Love by Michael Ondaatje are the books that I’m most intimately in love with because I’ve spent so much time writing about them, but Middlemarch, Ulysses, and The Autobiography of Red also must be mentioned as books that have changed my life and transformed my idea of what a story could be. Also, if we are going to talk about writing that broadened the horizon of my expectations, The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism deserves a shout-out.

Currently reading: I’ve become a very promiscuous reader, but I’m mainly keeping fidelity with White Teeth by Zadie Smith and a collection of poems called Hymn for the Black Terrific by Kiki Petrosino these days. Lead PA Piers and I also recently embarked upon reading a canto a day from Dante’s Divine Comedy, which has been a revelation, although I’m a few cantos behind this week (don’t tell Piers).

Favorite word: Zugunruh. It refers to the restlessness birds feel before their migratory season, so, yes, I’m troping myself with that answer. I also love “candid” and “imbue” and “mischief.” My least favorite words are the wrong ones.

KBurdGuitarWhich author would you want to write your story?: Isabel Allende because I want magic with my realism.

Paperback or hardcover?: In theory, my relationship to literature is like that line from the Neruda poem: “I want to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.” Only, from the state of my books that usually ends up looking more like scribbled upon pages, water-damaged covers, and split spines. Paperback books make this treatment seem like less of a violence, so they have to be my preferred type of text.

What’s the best point of view for narration?: I think there is something really fertile in shifting narrative. When an author can successfully allow for ambiguity in perspective without derailing narrative, I find something luscious in that. Ulysses is the example that comes to mind immediately, but Woolf and Faulkner also do a beautiful job of allowing POVs to come together like tectonic plates that make the whole earth shake. If I had to choose one tense that really moves me regardless of the perspective, though, it would have to be future progressive. I’ll always be a sucker for a prophecy.

Nerd of the Month: January 2016

Meet Trevor Stankiewicz, J.D. Salinger and Taylor Swift aficionado, actor, playwright, Stanford Program Assistant, and our first Nerd of the Month of 2016!

TrevorMicName: Trevor Stankiewicz or Tree Stank

Current life status: I just graduated from Cornell and I am currently living in Brooklyn, NY! I wrote a play about the genocide in Darfur, and it was just produced off-Broadway at The Cherry Lane Theater. In February, I’ll be traveling to Sudan and Ethiopia to perform the play as well. (To learn more about The Darfur Compromised or to help them fund their projects abroad, visit their crowdfunding page.)

Relationship to Great Books: Stanford PA in the glorious summer of 2015

Nerdy fun fact: I won the Continental Math League Award for the State of New Jersey when I was in 3rd grade. I peaked too early.

Nerdiest attribute: I think I have very nerdy hands. I’m not quite sure what I mean by that, but it is my answer.

Favorite book: Franny and Zooey!

Currently reading: American Gods by Neil Gaiman. I also just finished A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, and since I’m only like 50 pages into American Gods, I currently feel much more connected to A Monster Calls. So this is my way to answer honestly but also throw some nerd love to Patrick Ness. Not that he needs or wants it.

Languages spoken: I speak Old English, and my focus at Cornell was actually Medieval Studies. This has less to do with my interest in Medieval Studies and more to do with a crush I had on a Medieval Studies graduate student.

First fictional crush: My gut is saying Holly Golightly, but that might be more an Audrey Hepburn thing. Can I pick Audrey Hepburn? I know she’s not fictional, but she died like a month after I was born.

Which author would you want to write your story?: Stephen King, for sure. You either get a crazy horror story, or he goes Shawshank or Green Mile with it, and Frank Darabont makes it into a beautiful movie. Starring Tom Hanks as Trevor Stankiewicz.

Hardcover or paperback?: It’s all about that paperback life. Maybe it’s because I’m an irresponsible 20 year old and can’t be trusted with nice things, but my books need to be mobile. Also, my favorite place to read is on the beach, and I’m just not ready to expose my hardcover books to the harsh salty air that sea life exudes.

TrevorTheaterIf you were building the perfect literary debate team, which three authors would you nominate for your team?: My first pick would be Harper Lee because she created Atticus Finch, who upon second thought might be my actual first fictional crush. My second pick would be J.D. Salinger because Zooey is one of the best debaters and most critical characters I’ve ever experienced in literature. Rounding out the team would be Dr. Seuss as a wildcard.

What’s the best point of view for narration (first-person, omniscient, second person plural, etc.)?: My favorite narrator would be Lemony Snicket in his Series of Unfortunate Events, and he uses omniscient. The omniscient narrator, especially that omniscient narrator, creates such a great opportunity for comedy and irony between the reader and the characters.

What question would you like to ask future Nerds of the Month?: Who is the most misunderstood character in literature?


Nerd of the Month: December 2015

Meet Anna; writer, poet, interpretive tambourine dancer, veteran Stanford camper, Taylor Swift’s biggest fan, and our final Nerd of the Month of 2015!

Name: Anna Rose KoppelmanAnnaMic

Current life status: I live in New York City and I go to the Calhoun School. I am currently using these questions to procrastinate from homework while marathoning Scandal (I’m a real multitasker). I also write blog posts sometimes.

What kind of music do you listen to when you study?: Taylor Swift—always Taylor Swift.

Relationship to Great Books: I have been a camper for the last two years at Stanford. I plan on never leaving Great Books like even after I become a PA.

Nerdy fun fact: If you give me a topic I can do really bad free style slam poetry.

Nerdiest attribute: Sometimes after a joke I push up my chunky black glasses to make a point.


Anna with her friend Lilli at Great Books Stanford.

Favorite book: The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I keep the quote: “There’s nothing like deep breaths after laughing that hard. Nothing in the world like a sore stomach for the right reasons,” above my bed surrounded by a bunch of pictures of Great Books people. No matter the mood I’m in I always seem to find a quote from the book that matches my feelings. There’s another quote in the book: “It’s strange because sometimes, I read a book, and I think I am the people in the book.” I am always able to find myself in the pages of Perks. I have read it over 10 times every time I read it I learn something new about myself.

Currently reading: I am currently on page 34 of Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance.

Favorite word: Plethora. There is a plethora of words I could go with here (see what I did there) but I chose plethora because once I used the word on a date and the boy described me to his friends as “the kinda girl that uses the word plethora in a sentence.” I don’t know what kind of girl that is but I am very happy to be one.

Least favorite word: Caress— No exciting story here it just creeps me out to the highest extent.

First fictional crush: I used to have a pretty big things for George in Arthur, but then I was won over by Binky whose bad boy qualities got me very intrigued. Later I would settle for Buster’s kind personality. If I was part of the Arthur series there would definitely be a problem with me trying to date everyone in the friend group. (Side note: Am I the only Stanford person who thinks Noah Rosenblum is a little bit like Mr. Ratburn?)


Anna with her poetry idol, Sarah Kay, during a Guest Speaker talk at Stanford.

Which author would you want to write your story?: This is nearly and impossible question. Either Mindy Kaling or Stephen Chbosky…if Sarah Kay would like to write a book of poems on my life that would be ideal.

Hardcover or paperback?: It depends. I feel like people assume you are reading something with way more importance when it’s hard cover. However there is something to be said for the humble brag of reading Proust’s Search of Lost Time in paperback.