Over the past few months I have been able to do a surprising amount of reading for pleasure. This is likely related to the somewhat smaller course load I have carried over the past semester, and to the difference in academic schedules between the seminaries I am enrolled in. I have still managed to do all of the required reading for my classes. The surprising thing is how the fiction I read was tied to the course material. I really didn’t do it on purpose, it just happened.
The dominant theme in this final semester has been grief. A full course on pastoral care in situations of grief, along with a preaching course in which two thirds of the situational sermons assigned had components of sorrow and trauma, rounded out with a course on the confessions of the Christian Reformed Church, which has very few moments of levity, made for a very emotionally heavy semester. My recreational reading has been like this as well.
I’ve already written about Lost Highway and The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen both of which carried heavy themes of death, loss, and separation. I moved on from those to the the first two books in Ken Follet’s Century Trilogy, The Fall of Giants and Winter of the World. These are large historical tomes, following the lives of three families,whose members are surprisingly able to witness, first hand, all of major happenings in the first half of the twentieth century. There are very few light moments between the First World War, the Spanish Civil War, the rise of Nazi-ism, the Second World War, and the beginning of the cold war. In fact, every few dozen pages we are faced with another death, atrocity, torture, or just plain injustice. The books are very Euro-American centered and while the Pacific theater of WWII is mentioned and briefly visited, most of the action takes place in Europe, and most of it is in some way a description of misery.
The third book of the trilogy is not yet available, but I likely would have passed it by for now just because Follet’s style and the uncanny ability of his characters to constantly be at the right historical place and time was becoming tedious.
The next stop was February by Lisa Moore, a Canadian novelist, writing about her main character Helen, and her struggle with grief following the death of her husband on the Ocean Ranger in 1982. It is only at the end of the book, set in 2009, that there seems to be some resolution to the grief a sense of rebirth, of starting again. This book won the 2013 CBC Canada Reads.
I’m sure I’m not picking these sorts of books on purpose, but they did mesh well with the courses: they’ve given me a new filter through which to look at fiction. The first two books, and the last, rang true to the models of grief and grieving I was seeing in class, but Follet doesn’t. He seems to be too quick to get on with the story, on to the next piece of history. No one is paralyzed by grief, they all seem to accept the loss and move on. They rarely grieve at all, or if they do, it’s done outside the narrative. Grief and loss don’t seem to be important in the grand flow of history (which is actually likely true).
So, I’m off looking for something lighter, to match the current mood of life. I’ve started The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson’s 2010 Booker Prize winner. So far there are some good laughs, and wonderful word-craft, but I don’t think it will turn out lighter.