highly recommended summer listening:
i've been thinking about what might be a typical summer "beach" read. paper-back, of course, bulky and pulpy, cliff-hangers at the end of every chapter: the literary equivalent of a soft, red delicious apple (that's a bad thing, if you weren't sure). when it is finished, you wonder why people eat (read) these things in the first place. well, somehow they fit the season while others do not.
over the past five years, i've read quite a few memoirs, primarily about coming to terms with faith and Christianity. Donald Miller wrote one called Blue Like Jazz which became wildly popular, a sort-of-mandatory-reading for being a Christian college student. A few others that I have gone through over the years: Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner / The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning / Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton... the list goes on. In fact, I read almost all of these in a book group, creatively titled "Group," in college. good times.
I wonder if these books fall under that summer reading category, or if they merit a bit more attention? Are they just bantam-weight bathing suit reading, fun and forgettable? I would like to outline a few areas where these books become important, or at least engaging.
- a sense of time passing. all of the above take us through a season in the author's life. most notably, Lauren Winner's book progresses through a year based on the orthodox jewish calendar. in this way, these books are existential- focusing on the present as the space where choices are made toward a more authentic belief, and the future as an open book that is constantly being written.
- no specific point and no definite conclusion. although the author comes out with a different mind by the end, the lesson learned is not necessarily stated. Donald Miller would say that living with faith was something intuitive, not that he learned A, B, and C and put them into practice. the lack of a definite meaning leaves an interpretive space in the text, where the reader can draw a number of conclusions; none completely right, none completely wrong.
- a sense of incompletion and possibility. another existential staple- living in the "not-yet"- is a common thread here. Lauren Winner writes "...I pray that the Lord our God will save us. And I watch the Torah scrolls dance by, and I know that I have already been saved." She constantly writes about not quite having this faith, but in trying to articulate what she doesn't have, she catches a glimpse of what she already has. maybe i could italicize small epiphanies as well?
- conversations and daily observations as a substitute for heavy-handed doctrine. the bible is referenced in the story, but is not the primary focus. the window is wider, with cultural, artistic, and historical references. thomas merton is all over the sixties in Seven Storey Mountain, joining a communist youth league and reading Freud and Jung. The idea is that finding the right path involves detours, which in turn are important to how the author reconciles two different worlds.
my thought is that most of these are easy books to go through. but given a bit of pacing, you start to think with the authors, taking in their story with a breath of expectation. you wait and expect- and the stories take on a bit of gravity.
and on that note, just say "no" to dan brown and janet evanovich this summer.