I have had the opportunity to read many wonderful books over the past few months, and surprisingly, the majority of them have been novels. Reading used to be an event of the day: a blocked out two-three hour retreat spent marking the books' margins and jotting down notes. Since Lydia has been born, reading is a filler in the few down times and before bed. Therefore, novels and narrative based writing have seemed to fit the availability, and I have thoroughly enjoyed each that I have read recently.
The first is Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. The character development in this book is incredible. You are invited into the lives of four brothers who, although share the same father, have entirely different worldviews as a result of entirely different childhoods. It is a classic novel on the dilemma of human thought and response to one's surroundings. I found that I both loved and hated things about the brothers, as well as the secondary characters and the abusive father. Dostoyevsky raises issues of faith and culture, sin and forgiveness, love and hatred, and lies and truth. It's a book that someone could read twenty times, and each time find a new story within the story.
While many were introduced to this novel in high school (or earlier), I did not hear of it until reading Stanley Hauerwas' A Community of Character. Hauerwas uses Richard Adams Watership Down to illustrate the importance of memory and remembering for a community's politic. I was most intrigued by the forward to the book, where the author says something to the extent of, "No matter how my book has been used in political theory, it was originally written as a children's tale for my daughters." Yet it does not take long to see why this book is used in political theory courses, as it traces a community of rabbits as they journey from one strange community to the next. I must note that this book has given an image to leadership within the church that I had been unable to envision before. As someone who feels many of the missional church postures, I have been an advocate of flattening leadership without the loss of leadership. While this sounds good in theory, I had not seen it enacted all-too-often and I had not an image of what this "relying on the gifts of one another" might actually look like. Watership Down provides this image, as we watch the rabbit-community's reliance upon one another: reliance upon the visionary rabbit, the thinker-rabbit, the storyteller-rabbit, and the strong-rabbit. Each rabbit had a role in the community that was essential for its survival, yet not one rabbit was privileged above the rest, or had a right to say, "but the buck stops here!"
Most recently I have finished Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. This book was recommended by many close friends, and upon learning that it was a story about magic in Europe, I became even more intrigued (I seem to be a sucker for these types of books, whether it be Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings). This book is filled with layers. At times I thought it was about the power of esoteric knowledge to create those who are elite and those who are common. While this hooked me for awhile, I then became frustrated that this book provided neither an epic-storyline reminiscent of other fantasy novels, nor a darkness that often accompanies these types of books. But then it made me think about theology, and how we too-often approach theology as a language of the elite, enclaving ourselves as a group of those "inside" and leaving everyone else "outside": this book smacks this arrogant posturing as we see magic come back to the everyday lives of individuals and England as a whole. Finally, the final third of the book provides the type of epic tale that I had hoped for all along.
I could easily write essays on each of these books and the impact that they have had on my thoughts over the past few months. While it is easy to think that I am missing something by not focusing on non-fiction works, I have been blessed to be growing through the truthfulness and impact of good storytelling. Maybe what I have needed for a long time is immersion into fiction. The knowledge that I have long-pursued resides in facts and truths, which when understood, can then be enacted upon and heralded to the world: the story is thus the result of having our facts correct. But as I continue with many of the post-modern sentiments and seek to live amidst and among people whose lives are stories, I realize that stories are not the result, but the only way that we can know anything.
So with all that said, anyone have any suggestions for some good novel reading?