Summer Reading & Thinking Theologically

Karen Matthias-Long



Ahhh!

Summer is approaching and visions of curling up with a good book while sitting by a lake or by the ocean bring a welcome sigh of pleasure!

I enjoy reading with theological lenses from time to time. Here are three books from Geraldine Brooks – all historical dramas -  that I would recommend for this purpose.

YEAR OF WONDERS (2001)

This story is based on a true story of a town in England (Eyam) that quarantined itself during the plague so that other towns wouldn’t be affected by the disease that was rampant in their own community.

When I read this story, I felt as though it were a parable of 9/11 and its aftermath. This is a community that has the plague, and like our country’s reaction to 9/11 fear takes hold of this community. People in this country responded differently to their fears after the terrorist attack. That’s also the case in this story  – people respond to the catastrophe in different ways.

Questions for theological reflection:

1. What are the different ways that people react to fear in this story? In the Bible the phrase, “do not be afraid” appears 59 times! What does fear do to this community spiritually?

2. Think about the following terms that are commonly used in church-speak. Where are examples in this story of  betrayal, hypocrisy, brokenness, sacrifice, compassion, grace, redemption?

PEOPLE OF THE BOOK (2008)


In this historical fiction, Brooks focuses on the “Sarajevo Haggadah.” She traces an imaginary journey of an exquisitely illuminated Hebrew manuscript backwards in time to 1480.  One of the appealing things to me about this story is how Brooks describes the religious climate in each century – from the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the late 1400s to the Inquisition, World War II, and the Bosnian War in 1992.

A lot is made of the differences between the Jewish, Muslim and Christian faiths. After reading this book, it might be worthwhile to reflect on what our similarities are and how we can use that for making healthy connections between the three faiths today!

MARCH (2006)

Readers of Louisa May Alcott’s story “The Little Women,” may remember that the father is absent in most of the story. He is an abolitionist is is serving with the Union Army.  Geraldine Brooks takes up the story of Peter March, a chaplain in the army, and reveals the horrors of war and racism through his eyes.  Brooks has said that “faith in times of catastrophe” is a theme in all her books. A question to consider while reading this book is, “How is March’s faith tested?” and a follow up question is, “At what points in your life has your faith been tested?” Recently I heard Rolf Jacobson state that the book of Psalms is “the soundtrack of our lives.” Which Psalms do you think would have spoken to March at various times in his life?

These are three favorite books of mine. What about you? What books of fiction would you recommend for summer reading that can be read with a theological lens?