The Year of Katherine Paterson, and Other Books to Read

One of Ben's birthday presents was a boxed set of three Best American 2006 paperbacks, including the short story, travel, and spiritual writing books. He's been working his way through the travel volume, while I pounced on the spiritual writing (ooh, big surprise there). I tend not to read those books in a linear fashion, but prefer to hop around to whatever essay looks interesting in the moment. The first one I read was Katherine Paterson's piece from the Harvard Divinity Bulletin, "Are You There, God?" Without unleashing a load of superlatives, let me just say that I think that essay is one of the best I have ever read, and I can't recommend it enough. The only Paterson book I read as a kid was Jacob Have I Loved, which I loved, but I was apparently too caught up in the Babysitters' Club series to bother reading her other Newberry and National Book Award winners. The BASP essay made me want to read every last word Paterson has ever written. Check out what she said in an interview posted on her website: "

I think it was Lewis who said something like: "The book cannot be what the writer is not." What you are will shape your book whether you want it to or not. I am Christian, so that conviction will pervade the book even when I make no conscious effort to teach or preach. Grace and hope will inform everything I write... Self-consciously Christian (or Jewish or Muslim) writing will be sectarian and tend to propaganda and therefore have very little to say to persons outside that particular faith community. The challenge for those of us who care about our faith and about a hurting world is to tell stories which will carry the words of grace and hope in their bones and sinews and not wear them like fancy dress.

Didja catch that? Tell stories which will carry the words of grace and hope in their bones and sinews and not wear them like a fancy dress. I think Katherine Paterson's stories will make me a better preacher and a better writer, and so I've declared 2007 the Year of Katherine Paterson. I already reread Jacob, as it was one of the ten or fifteen children's books that traveled with us to California. But I've since started The Great Gilly Hopkins, and as soon as Bridge to Terabithia is back in the library, I'm all over it.

In addition to my self-directed study of Paterson, I started to cobble together a reading list for 2007. I'm sure books will be added and subtracted as the year proceeds, but this is what I have so far:

Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith (Diana Butler Bass)

The Secret Message of Jesus (Brian McClaren)

Blue Like Jazz (Donald Miller; rereading for book discussion group)

God's Politics (Jim Wallis; for book discussion group)

The Memory Keeper's Daughter (Kim Edwards; for book discussion group)

The Virgin Suicides (Jeffrey Eugenides)

Peace Like a River (Leif Enger)

Love in the Time of Cholera (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading (Nancy M. Malone)

Best American Spiritual Writing 2006

Best American Travel Writing 2006

American Pastoral (Philip Roth)

Practicing Our Faith (Dorothy Bass & Craig Dykstra; for sermon series)

Any more suggestions?

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