Last night, I finished Wallace Stegner’s lengthy masterpiece, Angle of Repose. I set it down and contemplated what a privilege it was to have time to read. I read a lot of books, a lot of amazing books. Because of the sheer length of my booklist, if your book is not well-written, it will be quickly discarded.
I have pages and pages of highlighted quotes, notes, and references from my favorite wise non-fiction writers (Krista Tippett, Parker Palmer, Richard Rohr, Brennan Manning, Frederick Buechner & David Brooks come to mind – all highlights of last year), but there is something different that happens when I read a great novel. While non-fiction works tend to ping around in my brain and sometimes sift their way into the deeper places of my heart, stories just march right in my heart’s front door. What is it about a story?
We are all living stories. God’s story telling confounds me sometimes. Bible stories, especially the most ancient ones, can pull up confusion and even revulsion. But I do believe God is the grand storyteller, and a story weaver in our lives. He created us in his storytelling image – story is quite literally in our DNA.
Written story stands apart from any other form of storytelling. I was staring at a page in a real book – printed on actual paper. The font was small enough to challenge even my 1.75 readers (I love my Kindle). I took off my glasses so I couldn’t make out the words, and I noted that the vast majority of the page was white. All those tiny black letters probably took up 10 percent of the space. And it struck me – that’s what a satisfying novel does – it’s leaves us space to bring our own stories, our personalities, and our circumstances with us into the reading. No one will leave Angle of Repose changed in the same way it changed me, for no one else brings what I do to all that white space.
Characters are filtered through my life’s characters, whether I mean to or not. Their faces, their voices and smiles and joys, the way they move, their successes and failures take on unique forms in my mind based on what I know. So each novel, if it is written well, becomes customized to my soul.
I have a hard time remembering Jesus’s specific theology from his sermon on the mount, but the parables stick – I often think of the lost sheep, the woman desperately hunting her coin, the scene where the prodigal son is at last spotted by his father, the struggling seeds, the grumbling workers – these are the things that inform my spiritual life automatically.
My point is made. We should all read more epic stories. Maybe one day I’ll even write one. Every time I finish a remarkable novel, I wonder why I don’t read more! Here are a few of my favorites from the past few months. Please take a moment to comment and tell me a couple of your favorites. Or connect with me on Goodreads.
Wallace Stegner: Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose, Ann Patchett: State of Wonder, Fredrik Backman: A Man Called Ove, Marilynne Robinson: Gilead and Home (these probably top my list), Kristin Hannah: The Nightingale, Adam Johnson: Fortune Smiles, Wm. Paul Young: Eve and Cross Roads, Frederick Buechner: The Storm and Godric, John Steinbeck: Travels with Charley.