Recommendations from Elisa Stanford
An editor, writer, and avid library-goer, Elisa Fryling Stanford lives with her husband and two daughters in Colorado. She is the author of Ordinary Losses: Naming the Graces That Shape Us. To read Elisa’s blog on why we read stories, go to conversationsjournal.com/2012/05/a-god-of-stories/.
- Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust by Immaculée Ilibagiza
Left to Tell is the powerful memoir of a woman who survived the 2004 Rwandan genocide. After Ilibagiza’s family was brutally murdered in a killing spree, she hid in a bathroom for three months with seven other women. Her experience of God during that time, and her offering of forgiveness to her family’s killers, offer a new perspective on suffering and faith.
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, who gives up his dream of breaking the four-minute mile to become a lieutenant during the Second World War. When his bomber crashes into the Pacific Ocean, Zamperini begins an odyssey of survival and a spiritual journey of realizing that God is pursuing him. Zamperini’s story of physical and spiritual triumph in unimaginable circumstances is not only riveting, it’s truly inspiring.
- The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
Taking place soon after Jesus’s death, this novel follows the lives of four women whose journeys lead them to Masada—a mountain in the Judean desert where nine hundred Jews stood against armies of Romans. A blend of imagination and historical fact, The Dovekeepers provides a fascinating look at ancient times as well as insight into issues that women wrestle with today.
- Angry Conversations with God: A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir by Susan Isaacs
This is a funny but meaningful memoir of a woman who decided the only thing to do when her faith hit rock bottom was to take God to couple’s counseling. The result is an entertaining, hilarious, faith-affirming look at expectations, disappointments, and what real spiritual relationship looks like.
Recommendations from Laura Veltman
Laura Veltman is an Associate Professor of English at California Baptist University in Riverside, California, where her teaching and research focuses on 19th and 20th century American literature. In her free time, she plays with her two children while reminding herself that the housework will wait.
- Woman Hollering Creek and Other Stories by Sandra Cisneros
This collection of short stories examines how women — particularly Chicanas — adopt, adapt, or reject the "scripts" dictating how women should behave or how men and women should relate to each other. Cleofilas in "Woman Hollering Creek," having learned from telenovelas that "to suffer for love is good," must decide whether to stay with her abusive husband. Rosario in "Little Miracles, Kept Promises" wishes she could be a father rather than a mother, because "a father could still be artist, could love something instead of someone, and no one would call that selfish." Cisneros's masterpiece is as compelling as it is challenging.
- Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Janie Crawford searches for love and, more than that, her own voice within the sometimes-constricting world of the small black communities of Florida during the 1930s. The novel traces her attempt to define herself — as a woman and in relationship with men — in the face of a grandmother who wants her to marry an aged widower to protect her from men who would abuse her, a husband who insists that "She's uh woman and her place is in de home," and a town who thinks she's too big for her britches. At times lyrical, comedic, and heart-rending, the novel celebrates the quest for — and achievement of — love.
- Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters
In the fictional town of Spoon River, Illinois, lie the inhabitants of a cemetery. Now dead, they offer "epitaphs" — voices from the grave — that reveal the intricacies of small-town life in the early 1900s in America. These former friends, neighbors, lovers, enemies, bosses, and workers reveal secrets, jealousies, heartaches, and joys. A collection of poetry, with each poem named after — and giving the perspective of — one of the dead townspeople, Spoon River Anthology excels in revealing character in just a dozen or so lines. "Abel Melveny" collects farm machinery he didn't need and never used, realizing at his death he too was "a good machine/That Life had never used." "Rev. Abner Peet" sees his belongings sold at auction after his death, including a trunk with the "manuscripts/Of a lifetime of sermons," which the buyer "burned . . . as waste paper." Masters asks us to evaluate the meaning of our lives — and our deaths.
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
When the Rev. John Ames, a Congregational minister nearing retirement age in the small town of Gilead, Iowa, marries a much younger woman who bears him a son, he — realizing he will not live to see the son reach adulthood — writes a series of letters, almost journal entries, to his boy. In so doing, he records his family history, his faith, his failures, and his need to forgive, in such a moving way, and in such well-crafted prose, that one is almost heart-broken by the knowledge that John Ames is the product of Marilynne Robinson's magnificent imagination rather than a giant of faith whom we might one day meet.
Recommendations from Carrie Bare
Carrie Bare is a wife and mother of two grown sons, currently living in South Florida but originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. Carrie has been with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship since 1975, currently serving as Associate Regional Director with Graduate & Faculty Ministry in the South-Central region. She has always loved reading, especially fiction.
- The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor edited by Sally Fitzgerald
The Habit of Being is a collection of letters written by Flannery O’Connor and edited by her close friend, Sally Fitzgerald. The letters make a fascinating read, revealing the many sides of O’Connor, and giving us a fuller picture of who she was. It is also intriguing to gain a more complete understanding of what she was attempting to do in her published writings by listening in as she works out her ideas in letters to friends. The letters are a great mix of wisdom, humor, intelligence, and regional insight and can be read over and over and still give pleasure.
- Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Sometimes called a “quiet story,” this novel follows two couples and their intertwined lives — their hopes, ambitions, disappointments, discoveries, and dreams. It begins when they meet in Madison, Wisconsin, where both husbands are beginning their academic teaching careers and continues through the changes and challenges of their adult lives. Stegner explores complexities in friendship and in marriage in a story that is not predictable but rather has the power to pull us in and keep us intrigued right to the end.
- Daughters-in-law by Joanna Trollope
Trollope is gifted in writing stories about the complexities and particular joys of family life. She has written about blended families, adoption, divorce, and other challenging aspects of getting along together within a family. In this book she takes on a difficult “in-law” relationship. A forceful mother of three sons has managed to get the wives of the first two sons to do things as her strong family has always done them, but when the third son marries, his wife is not so willing to comply! With humor and insight, Trollope tells the story of how one family handled its in-law challenges.
- Run by Ann Patchett
Run is the story of two families and how their lives intersect after an accident. One family includes the father — an Irish Catholic Boston politician — and his three sons, two of whom are adopted African-American brothers. Early in the story, one of the sons is pushed out of the way of an on-coming car by a woman, also African-American, who is then hospitalized. Her family includes a daughter who becomes involved with the family of the boy she protected. Patchett skillfully explores race and identity, as well as family dynamics in this beautifully crafted novel.
Recommendations from Adele Konyndyk
Adele Konyndyk is freelance creative writer and a writer for World Renew. She is a graduate of Seattle Pacific University's MFA in Creative Writing program where she studied fiction. In her spare time she explores used book stores, walks the Niagara escarpment, and eats more cheese than she should. She also blogs at adelegallogly.com.
- Jeremiah, Ohio - by Adam Sol
Jeremiah and his scribe set off on a pilgrimage that becomes (at times) a lyrical quest through American towns — state parks, flea markets, dive bars, and diners. This novel, rendered in poetic form, is a modern reimagining of the biblical story of the doomed prophet that is by turns amusing and serious. You will laugh at the two quirky and passionate characters — but you will also lament with them as they critique consumerist culture. And anyone familiar with the Bible should find special delight in this poetic page-turner’s blend of King James language with contemporary speech.
- What the Stones Remember: A Life Rediscovered by Patrick Lane
Canadian poet Patrick Lane has seen many seasons of violence and sorrow — most of them lived out under the dark shadow of alcohol and drug addiction. As such, the memoir of his journey to sobriety is not a "light" read — it is, ultimately, a hopeful work about beauty blooming from life’s pain. Lane anchors his recovery story in the natural world, and the passages about his garden have a Psalm-like attention to creation’s splendor. This is a book to be read on a hammock or a lawn chair, with green leaves or blue sky overhead.
- The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Bennett’s slim but memorable novella about a Queen encountering the joy of books for the first time sparkles with wit and compassion. After a corgi chase leads the Queen to a bookmobile, she becomes a voracious reader — much to the chagrin and panic of those who see this new habit as a threat to royal propriety. This warmhearted satire is a charming testament to literature’s magic — and will probably remind you why it was so wise to pack books into your vacation bag in the first place.
- People I Wanted to Be by Gina Ochsner
Largely set in Eastern Europe, this tragicomic short fiction collection explores grief, love, and faith through the fascinating genre of magical realism. Ghosts sneeze and animals speak. Broken hearts are hurled over fences. Drawings come rebelliously to life. These are but a few of the enchanting happenings that propel Ochsner’s characters into unforgettable quests for redemption. Many of these stories read like modern fables — and all of them thrum with the absurd beauty of the human imagination.