The power of books: Faculty select the books that influenced their livesTo commemorate National Library Week (April 2-8), we asked several individuals to talk about books that have influenced their lives.
Dr. Tim Horner, Lawrence C. Gallen Fellow in the Humanities, Augustine and Culture: The Villanova Seminar
The trilogy His Dark Materials: The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
As a child I must confess that I read very little. Living in a small town did not afford much in the way of distractions, but rural Iowa, for some odd reason, was one of the first places in the nation to receive cable TV. I remember being glued to the set for the four hours of MTV that was broadcast every night. There were hardly enough videos to go around so I saw lots of repeats. If I was not being hypnotized by this larger world that came in through the magic window, I was tearing things down, running things over or blowing things up. But I was not reading a whole lot.
So it is no surprise, then, that my pick is a children's book. But I am not at all sure that this is a children's book. Yes, my children love it and hold it in the highest esteem. This trilogy is so much deeper and more profound than one would expect. But not in a heavy handed 'grown-up' way. Rather it deals with some of the most profound issues of our existence: God, love and human curiosity with the lightest of touches.
This book is a big deal to me because it is inventive in ways that can't be traced. Pullman is truly out of the box on this one, and it has changed the way I look at this world and myself. Moreover, it often moved me to the point where I could not read on and my kids would get slightly uncomfortable while daddy got his face cleaned up.
I have secretly enjoyed this book's obscurity. It has been a family secret because so many Americans have not encountered it. It was wildly successful in England when we lived there, and Pullman himself wrote in his garden shed just minutes from us in Oxford. But this is all going to change because a movie is planned. Once this comes out, I will have to insist that "I liked Philip Pullman before he was famous." It's a juvenile tactic, I know, but it is a children's book after all.
Dr. John Immerwahr, professor of philosophy and associate vice president for Academic Affairs
Meditations by Rene Descartes
Like many Arts students, I spent my first two years of college shopping for a major. As part of the journey, I enrolled in Philosophy 101. Our first text was Descartes’ Meditations. Descartes talked about things -- doubt, certainty, the possibility that life is a dream -- that I myself had long thought about, but assumed that no one else could possibly be interested in them. Imagine my shock to discover that someone else had raised these same questions and taken them even further than I had imagined. Even more amazing to me was that there were books, courses, and even a name for this activity. It was called Philosophy. I had found my passion, my home, and (eventually) my career.
Dr. Maghan Keita, associate professor, department of history
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Nearly everyone has a piece of literature that has profoundly affected them. For me, that work is Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. I came across the work quite late in my intellectual life; I was finishing my masters’ degree when Frank Moorer handed me the leather-bound volume I own today. In short, Ellison is not only a master story-teller, but he has woven the American intellectual narrative and its most profound dilemma with the threads of African American life into what I believe is the most important piece of American fiction of the twentieth century. The images are so rich, and the nuances so textured, that I am compelled to read it annually. This re-visiting allows me to speculate on the evolving American condition and its own possibilities.
Dr. Donna Shai, associate professor, department of sociology
Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team by Pamela Flowers and Anne Dixon
A book that has deeply influenced me is Alone Across the Arctic: One Woman’s Epic Journey by Dog Team (Portland, OR: Alaska Northwest Books, 2001). I came across the book in Anchorage, shortly after taking my first dogsled ride. This is a true-life adventure about the first woman to mush across the coast of the Arctic Ocean alone from Smith Bay, one of Alaska’s northernmost points, east to Repulse Bay in Northern Canada, a journey that was to take her one year.
Pamela Flowers, from Talkeetna, Alaska, was 46 at the time of the journey and weighed only 100 pounds. She must have seemed like an unlikely candidate for such a feat, because she wasn’t able to find any sponsors for the trip. They thought she’d never succeed, despite the fact that she was an experienced musher who had been on shorter expeditions to the North Pole. Nevertheless, she borrowed money from a friend and started out with her eight Alaskan Huskies and equipment, including a geographical positioning device, dog food and human food, a shotgun (in case of attack by wild animals), a camp stove, fuel and a tent.
Along the way she encountered scares involving wolves and polar bears. At one point her beloved lead dog, Douggie, disappeared on the Arctic tundra, and later the team hit incredibly rough and melting ice. The story is told in narrative, diary entries, photos, maps and diagrams. On several occasions she was helped by native villagers, who gave her food, shelter, and encouragement. The reader breathes a sigh of relief when Flowers and her whole dog team make it safely to Repulse Bay.
This book is about following your dreams and succeeding when nearly everyone else has counted you out. It’s about courage, independence, self-reliance, going it alone and sometimes getting help from others. It’s also about the ancient interdependence of humans and dogs. Anyone who loves animals and nature will find the book inspiring.
The Alaskan population is so small that anytime you mention a book you enjoyed, the listener is likely to tell you that the author is a friend, relative or neighbor. I hope to be able to meet Pamela Flowers in person the next time I’m in Talkeetna!
Collected by Dave Burke, Jackie Mirabile and Judy Olsen