Dr. Matthew Klooster, Assistant Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies

When I asked him about his favorite book, Dr. Klooster responded that he reads so much scientific literature, it’s hard to think back to a real book he read for pleasure. A Separate Peace by John Knowles was the first book he mentioned. It tells the story of a young boy in the World War II era. It is a coming-of-age story that explores morality, patriotism, and loss of innocence. He mentioned briefly that To Kill a Mockingbird was a favorite, and a classic.

Lastly, he talked about Stranger in the Forest: On Foot Across Borneo. Eric Hansen wrote this book detailing his journey across Borneo. He was the first westerner ever to walk across the island of Borneo. It’s an excellent book, and is particularly intriguing for Dr. Klooster, since he will be taking a class to Malaysian Borneo this summer, and has visited Borneo many times in the past. The Penan, the native people of Borneo, have a truly beautiful culture and way of life. This book provides insight into their lives and how westernization is changing them. It’s a great read (and a required one, too) for students going to Borneo, or anyone who is interested in South East Asia, its nature, and its people.

Dr. Daniel Kirchner, Assistant Professor of Philosophy

Dr. Kirchner has a love/hate relationship with books. He started off our conversation by discussing libraries, and how he hates them. They are a place where ideas go to die. He explained that when he would go into the stacks at Harvard, there were books that hadn’t been opened for maybe more than a hundred years.

Regardless, he does have some favorite books. He has had different favorite books for different stages of life. When he was a child, he loved The Chronicles of Narnia and read the entire series 6 or 7 times.

He also spoke of My Side of the Mountain, a novel about a man named Sam Gribley who runs from his crowded New York City life to the solitude of the mountains. Dr. Kirchner explained that he was always intrigued by the lifestyle of a hermit, and when he was younger he wanted to be one.

He likes books that are “transformative and demanding,” ones that demand the reader chew on the material, think deeply about the message and the ideas, and are “questy.” Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse was also a favorite. I’m reading it currently and I can attest to its power. It is the story of a young man named Siddhartha who follows the path towards wisdom and peace.

The main favorite was The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It is the story of a young woman who is in love with a man that cannot seem to decide between the woman and his preferred lifestyle of womanizing. This book also brings up Nietzsche’s problem of eternal recurrence, which is the idea that the universe is recurring. Actions repeat themselves forever. This means that our actions are simultaneously infinitely small and incredibly weighty. This is where the title of the book comes from. The Unbearable Lightness of Being was given to Dr. Kirchner by a student he had in eastern Europe. This gift made him feel that he had made a difference to this student, and so it was special from the start. It is a sad novel, and he told me that he knew exactly which part would “get me.” I’m working through it now to find out what that is.

Dr. Beau Weston, Van Winkle Professor of Sociology; Chair, Anthropology and Sociology

Dr. Beau Weston has a lot of favorite books, and he wasn’t sure which one to choose for this interview. He ended up deciding on Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste by Pierre Bourdieu. Bourdieu is a very prominent French sociologist, perhaps the most prominent French sociologist in America. This is a master work, and is consulted frequently in the world of sociology. He reads this book with his senior seminar students. They work up to this book, because it is very difficult and not written for leisurely reading. They then spend a month or five weeks working through this book together. Bourdieu writes very “convoluted sentences” and you can spend a lot of time on only one. This book explains Bourdieu’s take on social stratification, or the hierarchy that exists between the rich and the poor. Dr. Weston has used this book as a launching point for his own research, and while not always following Bourdieu’s methods, he keeps them in mind. This book is liked by many colleagues, and its importance cuts across fields of study.

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