Let’s Discuss Religion? -as a story element!

This discussion was full of books that featured religion, using the general definition of: a belief system of god(s) that have their own ceremonies or traditions. This doesn’t mean the book was meant to be specifically about practicing a religion, but that this should be a strong element within the story. An interesting challenge that had some really interesting results:

Megan: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks chronicles the tumultuous life of Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a Puritan minister living in Great Harbor, Massachusetts. As her father devotes himself to converting and educating the native Wampanoag Indians, young Bethia dutifully fulfills her role as daughter and keeper of the house, all the while yearning for an education. While enjoying a rare moment of privacy and freedom, twelve year old Bethia encounters Caleb, the son of a chieftain and a boy of similar age. Despite the cultural and language barriers, the two forge a secret and lasting friendship that takes them both from the sandy beaches of Great Harbor to the halls of Harvard College. As their friendship evolves and their lives change, the one thing that remains constant is Bethia’s struggle with the rigid rules of Puritan life.

Carol: In Mr g, by Alan Lightman, Mr g has just woken up from a nap when he decides to create. Before he gets this idea, he simply exists with his Aunt Penelope and his Uncle Deva in the “Void.” First, Mr g creates time and space, and ultimately, he creates the universe. Mr g is made to reconsider what he’s done while speaking with Belhor, a creature who is supposed to represent the Devil and who materializes rather than is created. Mr g and Belhor debate the necessity of free will in the universe. I found read to be an interesting and thoughtful novel that is also like a little lesson in the physics of evolution.

Emma: Promises to Keep by Ann Tatlock Is told from 11-year-old Roz’ point of view. Janis Anthony and her three children Wally, Roz (Rosalind), and Valerie escape an abusive alcoholic husband/father in Minneapolis to settle in Mills River, Illinois. With the help of Janis’ father, they settle into a new home. The former owner, 70-year-old Tillie Monroe, shows up on their doorstep explaining that she intends to die at the house she and her husband built many years ago. She complains that her sons had no authority to sell it while she was convalescing in a nursing home. Tillie quickly becomes invaluable to the Anthony family helping out as cook, nursemaid, babysitter, and spiritual guide. Alan Anthony finds the family in Mills River only contacting Roz and making her promise to keep his presence in town a secret until the dramatic ending.

Steve: For One More Day, by Mitch Albom, is the story of Charley “Chick” Benetto, who played briefly in the big leagues, and his decision to return to his childhood home to take his own life. Enroute Chick crashes his car, and oddly, awakens to his mother, who died years earlier. She takes him along for the day to to visit with her old friends. Through flashbacks we learn of Chick’s upbringing, his father who broke up the family, his mother’s struggle to provide, and Chick’s yearning for his dad’s love. And in the end, we learn of a few surprises.

Chris: Francis and Bernard by Carlene Bauer. Inspired by the lives of writer Flannery O’Connor and poet Robert Lowell, the author imagines what it would be like if they continued their friendship which began at the Yaddo artist colony in 1957. In Bernard’s (Lowell’s) first, brief letter to Frances (O’Connor), he ends it with “Who Is the Holy Spirit to you?” And so begins an eleven year friendship, that grows into love, and becomes more and less than that over the years. At the start of this story–told completely in letters–Bernard has just become a Catholic and wants to learn more about his faith from practicing Catholic, Francis. Even though many of their letters bring up faith, they being writers, talk their craft, literature and life. At one point, they are both living in New York and that’s when their love relationship really begins. But with two such powerful personalities, can it be sustained? A great! first novel.

Ann: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is Congregationalist minister John Ames’s account of his life to share with his young son. Ames is now in his seventies with a heart condition and knows he won’t live to see his 7-year-old son become a grown man so this lengthy letter is what he wishes his son to know of him and his ancestors. Ames, like his father and grandfather before him share the vocation of minister in small town Gilead, Iowa. His grandfather was an abolitionist and served in the Civil War. His father was a Christian pacifist. In a rambling style, with often beautiful prose, Ames ponders life, good and evil, and offers theological discussions. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005.

Dori: Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood is the story of a tortured young man, Hazel Motes, born into a family of preachers and destined to become one, until he decides to change his own fate. Returning from army service, he attempts to start a new life by opening the “Church Without Christ” in the small town of TaulkinhamIn, Tennessee, but finds that it’s not so easy to turn your back on salvation. With a slew of offbeat, obsessive and often obscene characters, this twisted tale of faith is weirdly funny and always compelling.

Stacey: In A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri, Saba is left behind when her mother and twin sister Mahtab flee post-revolutionary Iran in the 1980s. Her family becomes one distracted father, a bevy of village women, and two friends, Reza and Ponneh. Over the years there are only two constant desires in Saba’s life: 1) to marry Reza, a good-natured boy who wants never to leave their small village, and 2) to live in America as a college-educated , independent woman. After being caught in a compromising situation with Reza, Saba is forced to make choices that lead to a future she couldn’t have predicted. In this place and time, were there any truly decent options for women? This book takes a significant turning point in Iran’s cultural history and makes it understandable through the experience of a small group of people.

Next time we’ll share with you some book titles you might want to the beach! That’s right -we’re kicking off summer with Beach Reads! If you’re reading along with us, go looking for anything you might consider taking outside for a nice long read in the sun -with lots of sunscreen on please! Enjoy!

— Stacey

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