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Books that Inspired Faculty

Mindset by Carol Dweck. This is a great book that highlights how our beliefs related to learning impacts the direction our life takes. It is a powerful book on what stops us from reaching our potential, and how simply learning about mindsets can transform the way we experience life. It is the rock from which I focus my research on motivation and learning.

Susan H. Cogdill
Assistant Professor, Music Education

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I first read it at about 12 when my mom let me borrow her copy on a long flight when I ran out of things to read. I can remember perfectly clearly thinking "oh this is what feminism is about." I re-read The Handmaid's Tale every couple of years or so. A while back, Atwood was featured on Talk of the Nation, and I called in, mostly just to tell her how much the book had inspired me to be aware of women's issues. Her comment on the book was that she hadn't written about anything that hadn't already happened or wasn't happening now. Her comment gave me chills; it's a novel about a dystopia that would be terrible for me to live in, but it had already happened.

Kathleen Costello
First Year Seminar Faculty

A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond

YA novel, Newberry Honor book. I read it a little late for my age, I think. My much younger brother had got it. I would read what he was reading and we would talk about the books. I was already interested in archaeology and museums, and this made me even more so.

Kathleen Costello
First Year Seminar Faculty

Beowulf, translated by Seamus Heaney. In particular his own absolutely outstanding reading of it on audiobook.

I am a reluctant poetry reader at best, especially long or epic poetry. I find it really hard to pay attention well enough to deeply follow along. I forget that poetry sometimes takes just paying attention to the words, and letting the meaning come after. I bought the audiobook reading of Beowulf after Heaney visited CSB/SJU two years ago.

I spent several happy bike rides from St. Joe to SJU with his voice in my ears. His reading at the BAC is one of the very best live arts experiences I've had. I've started to read the Welsh Mabinogian stories again for the first time in a long time. I am enjoying much more than I did the first time around. I think it's because I am a better and more patient reader of this form. That I attribute to having enjoyed Beowulf so much. I love being reminded that it is worth returning to old things and looking at them with new eyes.

Heaney was featured in the BBC podcast series "A History of the World in 100 Objects," discussing the Sutton Hoo find in East Anglia. In particular he was talking about the warrior's helmet found in the ship burial. His interview made my icy heart melt because it was so liberal artsy, pulling together threads from different places to tell one story.

Kathleen Costello
First Year Seminar Faculty

In The History of Love, author Nicole Krauss gives the reader a genuine, literary knockout – a novel that offers the one-two punch of a complex, engaging plot and lyrical, lovely language. In short, a beautiful, beautiful book.

Matt Callahan
First Year Seminar Faculty

This summer I stumbled across a WILD book in Barnes and Noble and I mean literally stumbled; who puts a rug smack dab in the entrance of a store, really? As I calmly composed myself I looked up and saw a picture of a hiking boot with a quote: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" After finding myself at a crossroads in life personally and professionally I decided to give Cheryl Strayeds' book Wild a try. At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her own marriage on the rocks, she decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington. With no experience in hiking, it was a promise of piecing back together a life that had come undone. Her story is one of resilience, perseverance and the pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened and ultimately healed her. Throughout her pages, I could resonate with her feelings of the unknown. It was through her experiences that I came to a new realization that it’s never too late to be what you might have been. Her story has inspired me to take a huge leap of faith professionally and propel myself forward personally as well. Every step of the way I am learning just what I am called to be and do with my one wild and precious life.

Emily Hoeschen
Instructor, Education Department

This Bridge Called my Back—Writings by Radical Women of Color

I read this towards the end of my undergraduate career, in the mid-1980s. Every single poem/story/article in this collection is amazing! It radically changed my understanding of feminism by addressing racism and classism among women who were working to end gender inequality. It propelled my interest in/desire to better understand racism in the U.S. and ways in which I may unwittingly be complicit with racism. It motivated 30 years of thought/teaching/action on my part.

Jean Keller
Associate Professor, Gender Studies & Philosophy

Love's Labor: Essays on Women, Equality, and Dependency by Eva Kittay

This is my all-time favorite work in philosophy, written by a member of my dissertation committee. Moving from personal essays, to an engagement with John Rawls, a towering figure in political philosophy, to addressing feminist theorists, Kittay maps out the importance of care in all our lives and addresses how it has been systematically devalued by philosophers, public policy makers, and the public alike. Kittay makes, I believe, a compelling case for significantly reprioritizing the values of American society.

Jean Keller
Associate Professor, Gender Studies & Philosophy

The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

is not only a well written novel, but talks about cultural, ethical and spiritual issues surrounding the life of a young boy who grows up in S. Africa during WW II – he discovers the power of one in changing people's lives, and taking control of his own life. Inspiring and enjoyable.

Janna LaFountaine
Associate Professor, Exercise Science & Sports Studies

This is always such a hard question to answer. If I had to pick one book, it would be Roderick Nash Wilderness in the American Mind (Yale University Press, 1967). Now in its 4th edition (2001) Nash's work was really the book that started the modern field of environmental history, by bridging the gap between what had been called "conservation history" (the study of past natural resource use) and intellectual/cultural history. In it he argued for the importance of the idea of wilderness as a force in American history, which he linked to political, economic, and cultural developments from the Colonial era to the 1960s. When I was an undergraduate Nash was invited to speak on our campus for an endowed lectureship, at which point I read his book and spent enough time with him to realize environmental history was something I wanted to learn more about. Later, in graduate school, I developed a course on the history of the U.S. National Parks that used his book; I taught that course at three universities (including as a January term at CSB/SJU) and still assign his book occasionally for my US Environmental History course. It's the one book I still hand to people who ask me what environmental history is about; it's packed with fascinating characters, compelling stories, and cogent analysis of the links between nature, culture, and politics that is still timely now 45 years after its initial publication.

Derek Larson
Professor, History & Environmental Studies

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I first read this book first in junior high; I did not have an easy time fitting in and finally felt less alienated having Elizabeth Bennett living in my head. So what if my best friend was fictional? I still read this at least once a year. Her wit and insight into human nature are always a joy and keep me honest.

Carol Brash
Associate Professor, Art

Transformations by Anne Sexton

I read every fairy tale that I could as a youngster. As a first year university student I was overjoyed to have a huge, new library in which to play. I discovered a whole galaxy of myths, legends, folklore from all over the world. Then I read Sexton's book of poetry and something clicked. After reading her poetic analysis and synthesis of ancient tales, I had a deeper understanding of the much older works and my own critical analysis began to develop.

Carol Brash
Associate Professor, Art

Though I have long been a fan, this summer I re-read several novels of Haruki Murakami—my favorite contemporary novelist. Most inspiring of these were: Norwegian Wood (sometimes called the Japanese Catcher in the Rye), Kafka on the Shore* (I’m teaching it this semester) and 1Q84 (his most recent novel now available in 3 volumes). More than any author I have read, Murakami takes the reader into a world that is perfectly normal and yet completely strange at the same time. Murakami is a master of contemporary magical realism.

Mike Opitz
Professor, English

Breakfast at the Victory: The mysticism of Ordinary Experience by James P. Carse

The title essay convinced me that it is important to learn your craft so well that you can do it without thinking. For instance, here is a passage describing Ernie, the owner/operator or the Victory Luncheonette:

Unaware that he was one-legged, I was momentarily caught by Ernie's odd but graceful movements as he worked the narrow space between grill and counter. Like a Sufi dervish, he was bobbing and sweeping in long, slow circles, cutting a bagel here, popping the toasters there, opening the coffee spigots on two cups at once, buttering a bagel with a single sweep, scrambling an egg in what looked like a dented aluminum helmet, brushing litter from the counter, cutting another bagel, flicking back the coffee spigots at the last possible moment – all the while contributing abbreviated comments to conversations with half a dozen customers.

This is what I want my teaching to be: refining a technical point while making a joke, maintaining a conversation's thread while connecting its narrow subject with a broader river of thought, and keeping a conscious effort at bay while keeping the class moving towards clear objectives.

Louis Johnston
Associate Professor, Economics

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

This book is told from the perspective of a 50 year old woman who is diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's. This book is essential reading for anyone who knows someone with dementia or Alzheimer's. The book provides a window into what is going on inside their minds -- access that is so very difficult to obtain for friends, family and care givers. I have a sister with Down Syndrome that was diagnosed a year ago and this book has helped me to understand what she is going through. It provides the words that my sister is no longer capable of expressing.

Beth Pettitt
Adjunct Professor, Biology

Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History by Stephen Jay Gould.

I read this after graduate school and it is the book that taught me about evolution and the concept of natural selection. Even though I had a Ph.D. by the time I read it, I fundamentally misunderstood evolution and this book explained it so clearly and with such an engaging story that I devoured this book in two or three days, my mind exploding with these new ideas. I've retained an interest in evolution and Darwin ever since I read this book, having had no discernable interest in these subjects before I read the book.

Michael Reagan
Professor, Biology

My Grandfather's Blessings by Rachel Remen

Rachel chooses vignettes from her and others' lives and reflects on them. Her reflections are inspiring and give pertinent guiding principles for anyone wanting to live a gracious and full human life. Any person intent on their spiritual journey will find this book a wondrous companion.

Sr. Mary Reuter
Associate Professor, Theology

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez

I read everything by Julia Alvarez. She is an inspiring woman who was born in the Dominican Republic and came to New York as a teen. This book tells the legendary story of four sisters, "Las Mariposas," who opposed the Trujillo regime. Julia Alvarez inspires me because she writes about strong women and the cultural and political tensions between her country and the U.S. When I married my husband, who is from Puerto Rico, I learned how much I didn't know about history and relations between the U.S. and Latin American countries in the Caribbean. Julia Alvarez married a "gringo" farmer from Nebraska, so I can relate to the cultural tensions she writes about in her books.

Terri Rodriguez
Associate Professor, Education

The book that has inspired me the longest are Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. I always loved his imagination and sense of humor. Only later did I learn that he was a mathematician and that way of looking at the world resonates with how mathematicians approach the world.

Tom Sibley
Professor, Mathematics

The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.

He broadened my understanding of what the essence of human is. Before reading that book, I don't think I had consciously considered what makes us human. However, in reading it I realized how many assumptions I had about how people had to experience the world (in the way I did) if they were fully human.

Tom Sibley
Professor, Mathematics

War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy

I've read this book about 5 or 6 times. This book is actually not that deep, but the thesis that there are no great men/people but really a wide collection of people that cause the great and small events of history.

Parker Wheatley
Associate Professor, Economics

A House for Mr. Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

This book tells of the life and struggles of a Trinidadian Man of Indian descent in the first half of the 20th century. Perhaps the same factor is of interest in that it portrays the struggles, foibles, and survival of one, small person in the broader sweep of economic and social change. I suspect that sort of story would resonate with many readers.

Parker Wheatley
Associate Professor, Economics

The Essential Rumi and The Gift: Poetry of Hafiz

I am continually inspired by the way the Sufis see the spiritual in the ordinary. The poems of Rumi and Hafiz, though written almost 700 years ago, retain the ability to spark that “aha!” moment and make me see the world in a different way.

Noreen Herzfeld
Professor, Computer Science & Theology

After college, I moved to Boston for two years. Living there was thrilling and amazing, and full of new smells and tastes and sights. I loved the unfamiliarity of the new. I planned to work for a few years before going to graduate school to study Early American history. I also wanted to try out my Midwestern wings on the East Coast.

About a year in I found a copy of Mari Sandoz's Love Song to the Plains. This book – part history and part memoir – focuses on Nebraska: the expanse of the sky, the feel of the wind, and the peculiar beauty of prairie. It captivated me and, yes, inspired me. In fact, it changed the direction of my plans and, consequently, of my life path.

I applied to go to graduate school not to study Early America, but to study the Midwest. How Bostonians felt about the ocean – wonder, awe, connection – was how I felt about the grasslands. I came to understand the powerful pull that place has in shaping a world view, an understanding of the past, a sense of personal space and comfort. I also realized that like it or not, I was a Midwesterner. I decided to like it, to explore it, to understand it, to tell its (and my and our) story.

That book turned me into a Minnesota historian. I’m grateful and I recommend it.

Annette Atkins
Professor of History

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.

She already was one of my favorite fiction writers before I came upon this book, but this non-fiction book shows her versatility as a writer/biologist. This book changed my view on growing our own food and eating locally. It also is an enjoyable read not only about growing food, but also about family life and community. It's written in typical Kingsolver eloquence and includes recipes to boot!

Patricia Klug
First Year Seminar Faculty

The book Resistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany, by Nathan Stoltzfus, means a lot to me. It tells the true story of a group of German women in Berlin who protested outside the detention center where their Jewish husbands had been imprisoned by the Nazis in 1943. The prison was located just down the street from Gestapo headquarters, and armed SS guards threatened to shoot them, but the women came back every day until their husbands were released by Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, who was afraid they would inspire increasing opposition among Germans. The women who protested on the Rosenstrasse rescued their husbands from the Final Solution without using violence, one of the most inspiring feats of human courage I’ve ever encountered.

Kelly Rae Kraemer
Associate Professor, Peace Studies

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

A peculiar little book which helped me understand our friends better . . .

Jim Makepeace
Professor, Sociology

Amani Mashinani (Peace at the Grassroots) by Cornelius Korir

It is an excellent case study of a successful interethnic peacebuilding project that took place in Eldoret, Kenya, after the post-election violence in early 2008. Eldoret had some of the worst violence in Kenya. I know the some of the people involved, and will be helping with an update of the case study.

Ron Pagnucco
Associate Professor, Peace Studies

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The first world-class novel I ever read was Crime and Punishment. Though I was a young teenager and got out of it much less than I would in my college course on Dostoevsky, I was hooked from the first chapter. The main character's feverish cogitations as he contemplated committing a cold-blooded murder to honor a principle turn into an unbearable mental burden after he realizes that he cannot viscerally withstand the guilt that his philosophical reasoning has told him he should not incur. The second time I read the book, I literally got a fever soon after the murder, and I doubt that was a coincidence. The other major characters and some of the minor ones are fully fleshed out and fulfill their roles in the plot, and at the same time they represent specific aspects of Raskolnikov's psyche. I was amazed that an author could do that. I imagine I didn't figure all that out when I was a youngster, but I did recognize that there was a fierce battle being fought in Raskolnikov's soul between the Sonya side of his mentality and the Svidrigailov side, the urge to help people in a selfless way and the pull of truly amoral egoism. The investigator sees beyond the obvious clues and looks at the psychology of the crime to piece together the apparently senseless murder. To this date, I have never had a better education in psychology than Dostoevsky's fiction, with Crime and Punishment as the most intriguing.

Scott Richardson
Professor, Languages/Cultures

God after Darwin: A Theology of Evolution by John Haught

In this book, a great theologian of the science-theology dialogue reprimands theologians for not taking Darwinism seriously enough as a "gift to theology," and shows how evolution is a crucial ingredient in any theological interpretation of the universe (or multiverse).

Vincent Smiles
Professor, Theology

A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, Volume 4: Law and Love by John P. Meier

Meier is a great biblical scholar and in this volume of his great endeavor on the historical Jesus he shows how very Jewish Jesus was, that Jesus was engaged in the halakhic debates of his contemporaries on some issues, and yet at the same time was quite unique – no wonder those inspired by him have impacted history so profoundly.

Vincent Smiles
Professor, Theology

Born Again by Chuck Colson

It was a memoir that conveyed how transformational belief in God can be and how lives can be changed because of it. It has also been interesting to see how various camps have refuted the conversion or become toxic when talking about Colson. Regardless of how one feels about the man, the story definitely has the potential to inspire!

Bethany Tollefson
Adjunct Professor, Nursing

Candide by Voltaire

Why, simple: exemplifies a multitude of reasons for being tolerant.

Chuck Villette
Associate Professor, Languages/Cultures

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I first read Gone with the Wind when I was in 8th grade and had not yet mastered the English language. I moved to the US when I was 12 years old. At that point I could not fully appreciate the historical context or the descriptive passages, but I was drawn by the romance and the epic sweep of the novel. I reread the book several years later.

Elizabeth Wurdak
Professor, Biology

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

As a rower I identified with the precision, frustration, and pain of the sport, but the tremendous pay-off you feel when everything comes together and the boat is whistling across the water. As a historian, I loved the depictions of young people struggling through the early years of the Great Depression—worried about their next meal while still wanting to go out dancing with a date. But everyone—rower, historian, or not—will love the inspiration of a team that knows they are better together than on their own, and that when one person struggles, the rest of the team must pull them through it. This book offers inspiration for anyone who has ever questioned their skills or their ability to persevere. It is a triumph in the end.

Shannon Smith
Instructor, History

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

This is the 'Desert Island' book for me. I read it as an undergraduate during a time of spiritual and philosophical seeking and it had a profound influence on me. The problem of evil is one of the main problems that drove me to philosophy and this book—particularly the life and teachings of Father Zosima—gave me a way of thinking and, more importantly, living in response to it: 'we are responsible to all and for all'. Although my spiritual and philosophical seeking continues, it is with a greater sense of direction because of this book. Dostoevsky has such a deep understanding of the human condition and he gives one of the most beautiful and inspiring artistic depictions of saintliness in the character of Father Zosima. I regularly read Zosima's teachings on love for spiritual benefit.

David McPherson
Visiting Assistant Professor, Philosophy

Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold

This is a great book by the Wisconsin genius who saw what others failed to see. Helps on understand what is missing (and in many cases, unrecoverable) from one's life and one's world. We must re-read regularly or we will forget.

James Makepeace
Professor, Sociology

An inspiring book for me was Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman. I was amazed about the way that Klosterman could work to find connections between seemingly unconnected ideas (like the Boston Celtics and the Republican Party, or breakfast cereal commercials and hipsterism) and back up the arguments with convincing arguments as to why, in fact, these things are connected.

Bret Benesh
Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Feeding the Hungry Heart by Geneen Roth

I read this book as an undergraduate. It is, I think, the only self-help book I have ever read. I read it when I was doing the too typical undergraduate female thing of struggling with compulsive eating. I couldn't see a way out of my obsession with food and this book helped me regain my life. The guidelines it provides are importantly counter-cultural—encouraging readers to like and come to peace with their bodies and to learn to enjoy food without guilt.

Jean Keller
Associate Professor, Gender Studies & Philosophy

Skippyjon Jones (or any of the books in the series) by Judy Schrachner

I love the independence of the feline hero who thinks he's a Chihuahua. Every time he is sent to his room to “think,” he creates a new alternate universe in his closet – no electronics needed – have imagination, will play. I enjoy Schrachner's humor and her silly rhymes, rhythms, puns, alliterations – this series is my hands-down favorite to read aloud to kids.

Carol Brash
Associate Professor, Art

I am Malala: the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafza and Christina Lamb

Her memoir and why we still need to call for the education of women.

Dr. Gretchen Starks-Martin
Adjunct Instructor, Education

Tenth of December by George Saunders

The title story of George Saunders brilliant new collection made me think about life and death in a new profound way. Fiction simply does not get any better.

Matt Callahan
First Year Seminar Faculty

Tatttos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

Father Greg works with gang members in Los Angeles. The reader will be moved to tears, laughter, anger, empathy, the challenge of hope and discouragement. In the midst of all that Boyle writes about the meaning of what it is to be created in the image of God and see this image in the most unlikely people (according to our usual judgment) and situations serve as a foundational theme of the book. The principles and instances cited in the text can be applied to by human situation.

Sr. Mary Reuter
Associate Professor, Theology

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

As an undergraduate, I went to China on a study abroad program. One night, some friends and I decided to sleep on the Great Wall. I pulled out the copy of Frankenstein that a classmate had loaned to me on the train. I had read it before and had not been particularly intrigued (but as Mark Twain said, 'you never put your foot in the same river twice.') Anyway, the chapter I was reading at that moment was where the monster wakes up and wanders about describing all the light and sound and smell and touch that overwhelm his new senses. Being in a new culture, I completely connected to how the monster was reacting-overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar sensations and struggling to find patterns and make sense of the jumble of stimuli.

Carol Brash
Associate Professor, Art