Books can leave a very profound impact on a person’s life. A book you read as a 7-year old can evoke a sense of nostalgia and wonder ten years later.  Literature and the arts is a way of exploring what you don’t know and what you’d like to know.

My favorite aspect of reading is the self-revelations that can accompany a good book. In high school I read “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It is undoubtedly one of the most complex novels I will ever read and will always stand out as a cacophony of what family and life boils down to you.

Part of being at Centre means that we can often times form close relationships with our professors and understand that they have a full and interesting life outside of teaching us. I asked three professors if they had a favorite book or at least a book that meant something to them. Hopefully their responses will show some insight as to who they are and what really matters to them, not just as Centre College professors, but as people.

Dr. Robyn Cutright, Associate Professor of Anthropology & Chair of Latin American Studies Program – Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

“There are so many science fiction books that I love- books by Ursula Leguin, Margaret Atwood, and Madeleine L’Engle- that I can’t pick just one. Rather than choosing a dystopian novel, I thought I’d choose something more hopeful. A book that has been influential for me is Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. 

Kingsolver is a native Kentuckian and author, and Animal Vegetable Miracle is her memoir about spending a year in North Carolina with her family eating only what she can grow or buy from her community. She shares recipes, her adventures raising turkeys and finding local flour, and her thoughts on our agricultural system.

This book has influenced me to grow more of my own food (my yard in Lexington has a big garden, eight chickens, and five beehives) and to learn more about my local food system. It’s a great way to connect my academic study of food and daily life in the ancient Andes to my own life.”

Dr. Willie Costley, Assistant Professor of Spanish – Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison

“Although I have not read it since I was a Centre student in a class taught by Dan Manheim (many odd years ago), Invisible Man by Ralph Waldo Ellison remains my favorite book.

It is almost Ulysses-like in its breadth and depth as it weaves an unflinching narrative of the 20th-century African-American experience. The narrator, who introduces himself by asserting that he is not one of your ‘Hollywood movie ectoplasms,’ is at once familiar and cryptic.

He juxtaposes brutally realistic depictions of institutionalized racism with what seem like the phantasmagorical hallucinations of a peripatetic urban flaneur, often without warning.

The novel’s uneasy layering of concrete experience, visual imagery that borders on cinematic excess, and sometimes maddeningly dense characterization transform the work into a Gestalt that makes being black in America intelligible in a way that transcends historical narrative.

The novel should be required for all Americans who, like Melville’s Ahab, will emerge seeing their country with new eyes from the belly of the beast. And as trying as I might make it sound, the book is an absolute page-turner.”

Dr. Allison Connolly, Associate Professor of French & Chair of the French Program – A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

“When I was in fifth grade, I bought A Tree Grows in Brooklyn at a school book fair.  It was right before Christmas break.  I was thrilled and intimidated by the idea of reading a long book.  

The novel drew me in, and I spent the better part of a weekend alone in my bedroom reading about an Irish-American girl growing up in New York City.  My parents were frustrated that I wasn’t spending time with my brothers and sister, but I couldn’t tear myself away from Francie and her troubled family.  

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn made me aware of human suffering, something I had yet to encounter or experience. Francie’s life taught me about lack, mental illness, otherness, and beauty.  It opened a space of compassion in me, and I often think back to the novel, decades later.  

Last year at a local flea market, I stumbled upon a beautiful edition of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  I bought it with my three-year old niece, Nora, in mind.  She’s not ready for Francie quite yet, but in a few years it will be a special gift from Aunt Allison.  For now, it awaits her on my office bookshelf.”

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This article is a part of a series focused on the favorite books of staff and faculty. If you would like to share a favorite or important book please contact me at


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