For a limited time only, members of the Hillsdale College community have the opportunity to peer into the lives and minds of their professors and faculty from the comfort of Mossey Library.
Librarian Brenna Wade spent part of her Christmas break investigating professor’s favorite books and arranging them in a display in the entrance to the library.
From Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” to Cather’s “Death Comes for the Archbishop” to Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” the display features a diverse spread of 65 books submitted by 60 faculty members.
“Unless things have changed since I was a student,” Wade said, “students are always intrigued by what their professors’ interests are and what their favorite books are. To see them not just as a professor but as a person. From a faculty perspective, it is interesting to see what your colleagues’ favorite books are.”
Wade mentioned that when she began the process of collecting the titles, Professor of English Michael Jordan also expressed interest in that faculty perspective.
Jordan said that at the beginning of every semester, he asks his students to complete a survey about the book that has given them a “combination of the most pleasure and edification.” He found that 85 to 90 percent of students’ answers were works of fiction.
Jordan’s interest in the subject was piqued by Sir Philip Sidney’s “Defense of Poesy,” an essay asserting that poetry, which can be taken to mean most fiction today, is the more apt teacher than either history or philosophy.
“I thought, Sidney is making a claim that poetry is superior to other genres in its power to edify, because it has the pleasing part of history, and then the universal of philosophy,” Jordan said.
Jordan said that, as a result, he was not at all surprised that 65 percent of submissions were fiction.
Of these, one of Jordan’s personal favorites is the Library of America’s edition of Flannery O’Connor’s collected writings.
“I admire Flannery O’Connor as a fiction writer, especially her short stories, and as a letter writer,” Jordan said. “She is one of the best letter writers I know of, and is an essayist and a lecturer. And in all of these genres she is exceptional.”
Chairman of Theater and Dance James Brandon is another fiction lover, whose favorite book is “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams, which he discovered by chance.
“There was a time in junior high when I was always at the library, and if I was working on a project, I would wander over to the fiction section, pick up a book, and start reading it,” Brandon said. “I remember seeing the hardcover with the big ball of green and the guy sticking his tongue out and I thought, ‘What the h*** is this?’ So, of course, I had to read it.”
Brandon said that he was immediately taken by the novel.
“It is instantly engaging and funny. It was the first time I read humorous science fiction, and I loved it,” Brandon said. “I just loved the style, that British sensibility where you have these overeducated people commenting on things in sort of wry and detached way.”
Assistant Professor of Philosophy Blake McAllister is one of several professors who submitted a non-fiction work, C.S. Lewis’s “The Great Divorce.”
“This book was instrumental in the maturation of my faith. It changed how I conceived of the final end of man and, accordingly, the purpose of our present state of existence,” McAllister said.
He added that the book helped him share what he learned with others.
“It also enabled me to help others wrestle with doubts about God. After meditating on this book in college, I had five people independently confide in me that they were struggling to reconcile the goodness of God with the reality of hell. Ruminating on this book allowed me to respond effectively,” he said.