Section: Features

Kenyon students and professors share their favorite books

For those of us who love to read, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed by a marketplace oversaturated with entertaining literature. Without question, reading can inform us, but what people are reading tells an interesting story as well; it gives a peek at what issues and ideas are pertinent to the time and space we occupy in the world. So, we polled eight Kenyon students and professors with the simple question: If you could recommend one book you’ve read, what would it be? Their answers ranged from climate change-inspired stories about trees to philosophical treatises about our relationship with and responsibilities to the world around us. Here’s what some Kenyon folks had to say:

Austin Johnson, assistant professor of sociology

The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk and On Freedom by Maggie Nelson

“Kolk’s book is excellent and I think that we could all really benefit from thinking about how our bodies and minds are affected by things we’re not even consciously reflecting on. I read that over break and it helped me process some of the COVID stuff and be kinder to the people in my life. I would also recommend On Freedom by Maggie Nelson, because it will help us all figure out how to negotiate our own personal responsibilities and our expectations of the institutions in our lives.” 


Benji Chang ’24 

The Overstory by Richard Powers 

“It’s a book about trees. It’s interestingly told from the perspective of families whose lives have been touched by trees. It’s an excellent book thinking about climate change in our current era and also friends and family.”


Karen Hicks, professor of biology

Tomorrow’s Table by Pamela Ronald and Raoul W. Adamchak

“Ronald and Adamchak make this argument that organic farming and genetic engineering, though they are sometimes seen to antagonize each other, are great ways we can think about food and deal with food security. I found it really interesting and it makes a lot of sense to me as a geneticist, and as someone who has worked with transgenic organisms in the lab, and I understand how that can be a fast and precise way to manipulate productivity. I keep an organic garden at home, and I think it’s very important for us to decrease pesticide use both for human health and also for the health of the planet. There’s no reason that organic farming and genetic engineering can’t work together.”


Max Reynolds ’24

Stories of Your Life by Ted Chiang 

“Every story in that book holds a little gem, a little piece of great science fiction literature. There are wonderful ideas held in that book.”


Daniel Weiss ’24

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green

“It is one of my favorite books now. It’s structured in a very readable way; you can spend five minutes reading an essay and put it down. It’s searingly real, that’s one of the things I really enjoyed about it. Its candor is really striking. John Green is really good at capturing things about what it feels like to be human and put it into words. I think that especially right now in 2022, with all the anxiety, a book like that is valuable. It feels to me like it’s not just a collection of personal essays; it feels like an endeavor to try to find some meaning during the COVID era and that for me is really powerful. It provides solace in the fact that you are not alone and other people are dealing with the same thing.”


PJ Glandon, associate professor of economics and department chair

The Trees by Conrad Richter 

“It’s a historical fiction trilogy about life in Ohio in the late 18th century. It gave me and might give students here a sense of what this place was like a long time ago when settlers first arrived.”


Blythe Zadrozny ’22 

Out of Egypt: A Memoir by Andre Aciman 

“As a senior, I’m thinking a lot about leaving, remembering and changing. I read this memoir my freshman year, but its stories and and ideas are still shaping how I think about things three years later.”


Spencer Dew, visiting assistant professor of religious studies

Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley and Malcolm X 

“It’s a fascinating story of self-creation, an epistemological adventure, which obviously speaks to issues of religion and race. It’s a great read.”



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