Assistant Professor of Spanish Todd Mack has read everything from “Wuthering Heights” to the “Twilight” series, but he said the all-time greatest novel is “Don Quixote” — an opinion he’s willing to debate with anyone.
While Mack, who joined joined the Spanish department this fall, said he has always loved literature and stories, it wasn’t until a two-year mission trip during college that he truly fell in love with Spanish culture and literature. He had studied Spanish in high school but said it was nothing to write home about.
“That mission trip was a really huge turning point in my life,” Mack said.
After the mission, he returned to his studies at Brigham Young University and switched his major several times, teetering between his interests in history, literature, and language. He ultimately settled on a Spanish major and history minor before earning his master’s degree in Spanish and his doctorate in Iberian and Latin American cultures at Stanford University. As a part of his studies, he learned Spanish, Portuguese, and Catalan, the language of Catalonia.
“Stanford has this idea that there are all these other languages that are spoken, all these other nations inside of the Iberian peninsula, and they have great literature and have interesting histories that we can learn from and well developed cultures and traditions,” Mack said. “In order to understand what’s going on in Spain you have to understand the nations and regions that make it up.”
For his dissertation, Mack studied contemporary novels on the Spanish Civil War from multiple regions of Spain.
“I went to these places out in the middle of nowhere and talked to people who had read the novels and their experiences reading the novels,” Mack said. “The dissertation was about how where we’re from impacts the way we read and the way we read impacts the way we remember things, so how memory and literature and space are all tied together.”
In addition to his teaching, Mack works as a Catalan translator, translating everything from Catalonian science-fiction short stories from the 1890s to modern academic articles.
Outside of work, Mack said he enjoys spending time with his wife, Betty, and his four children. He also enjoys hiking, running, and reading.
He produces a podcast — The Protagonist Podcast — with a longtime friend, in which they discuss a character from a story. The medium of the story varies from old TV shows to comic books and novels, and the duo just produced their 150th podcast. Mack said they’ve covered “Jane Eyre,” “The X-Men,” and everything in between.
“Every week, we just sit down and have a conversation,” Mack said. “It’s really fun because it forces me to read tons of stuff. I’m constantly being exposed to new stories, and it’s always awesome to find some new thing to love, and that will happen really frequently.”
Although “Don Quixote” is Mack’s favorite, he also listed the “Lord of the Rings” and the “Harry Potter” books as excellent stories.
“I love a great story, and I’m not opposed to reading just for fun,” he said. “You just read what you can get your hands on.”
Mack will teach a Spanish literature class, The Hero’s Journey, next semester, and is teaching Beginning Spanish and Composition & Grammar Review this fall.
In-class activities have ranged from translating song lyrics to Spanish ad-libs, according to senior John Duffy, a student in Mack’s Composition & Grammar Review class.
“Dr. Mack legitimately cares about all his students, and he’s really invested in helping us learn the language,” Duffy said.
Chairwoman of Spanish Sandra Puvogel said Mack’s engaging personality and hands-on teaching style will help his students learn and practice the Spanish language.
“I think he feels that you want to get people using and speaking the language as much as you can, especially since there aren’t a lot of opportunities in Hillsdale for speaking Spanish outside the classroom,” Puvogel said.
Mack said his love for teaching supersedes his other academic interests.
“As passionate as I am about literature and philosophy, I’m probably more passionate about just teaching and being in class and having the opportunity to reach students,” Mack said. “I think through my classes I’ve been able to help kids see the world in a different way, and that’s a huge privilege. It’s really not me, but the fact that we’re in this space with an opportunity to think about stuff together, that’s what changes people. It’s awesome to be a part of that.”