I’m making a radical shift in my reading, but I’m announcing it because I have my doubts that I can sustain the shift. I may need some help. You may need to sit down. This is big.
Readers of the Jesus Creed blog know by now that I’m horrible at reading novels. I try to read two a year — during the summer, E. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and in December, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I try to read both; sometimes I even do.
Two years back I decided it was time to read some Kafka, and if my memory serves me right I hadn’t read Kafka since high school German class when we read the altogether weird, weird, Das Metamorphose. The fella turned into a beetle. So over a Spring Break two years back I read Kafka’s altogether weird The Trial. What a journey into the twisted mind of humans, or at least Kafka. Over Christmas 2011 I wanted to read another novel, but I needed to prepare for a paper at the BioLogos event so I didn’t get one read. (At least I don’t remember reading one then.)
So I’m trying to read more novels, including a recent one:
During our trip to Iceland and Denmark I read Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man, a book that explores the “options” in life for an African American man in the middle of the 20th Century. It was a brilliant story; I was over and over disestablished by not knowing the experience of the black man; I was routinely shocked and embarrassed by the narrative’s options and openings; and I watched a man — he gets no name, which points out that the African American is just not seen — but seen through by the establishment — grow and get betrayed and sort out options, including a major focus on entering into and then rejecting Communism/socialism (The Brotherhood).
I read Ellison’s book because I’ve seen it quoted so often, I saw that President Obama values this book, and I thought it would be good to experience the reality — depicted reality — of the African American in white, American culture. Even if outdated, there are striking realities still at work in our culture today. As a high schooler I read Black Like Me and that book stunned me, and made me far more sensitive to the plight of American blacks. I’ve never been out from under the spell of that book. I don’t know if I will read Robert Wright’s book or some James Baldwin, but I suspect I will read one of them. Ellison tells me that African Americans are invisible; a friend told me that some African American scholars now say they are shadows. Perhaps so; in the churches I suspect the African American is still invisible. In the Body that says we are all “one.”
What’s next? I’m a few pages into Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, a book that looks at American culture through the lens of violence. A good time to ponder violence.
My plan is to have a novel always near at hand to read. We’ll see.