Barbara Day Miller, associate dean of worship and music, indulged her love of history and biography with Prague Winter by Madeleine Albright. She also recommends Barbara Kingsolver’s latest, Flight Behavior. “You will be drawn into Dellarobia Turnbow’s life and self-discovery,” she says of this 2012 novel set in Appalachia.
M. Patrick Graham, Margaret A. Pitts Professor of Theological Bibliography and director of Pitts Theology Library, recently read The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. Written by social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, it explores the differences in how people on the political left and right engage in moral reasoning. Graham thinks it would be “particularly helpful for pastors with diverse congregations.”
Susan Hylen, associate research professor of New Testament, recommends Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue. The 2012 novel “is a densely written story about changes in race, relationships, and community, centered in Berkeley and Oakland,” Hylen reports. “I love the way Chabon’s characters come to life from the very first page.” Another favorite of Hylen’s: The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt, which she describes as “beautiful and tragic.”
Arun Jones has been enjoying fellow Emory faculty member and U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard. “The poems are rich and deep without being opaque and obscure,” says the Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism.
Joel LeMon’s recommendation is inspired by the discovery of his reading diary from high school English, where he found notes on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. “Both the book and my teenage analysis of it were sufficiently disturbing to make me want to give Conrad’s work another look,” says LeMon, who recently picked up 1902’s Typhoon. “It’s the story of a severely taciturn steamer captain in the South China Sea at the turn of the 20th century,” the assistant professor of Old Testament reports. “The captain’s unyielding personality makes him a fool, but it also enables him to persevere and guides him through a horrific tempest.”
Associate Professor in the Practice of Systematic Theology Steffen Lösel has been immersed in Richard Kieckhefer’s Theology in Stone: Church Architecture from Byzantium to Berkeley. It’s “a fascinating study of three traditions of Christian church architecture,” he says. “The book helped me to appreciate how and why Christians across time have adopted certain architectural traditions from their cultural surroundings to build their own places of worship and how they have understood their worship in line with their built environment.” Interest in church architecture piqued, Lösel plans to follow up with Rudolf Schwarz’s The Church Incarnate: The Sacred Function of Christian Architecture.
Thomas G. Long, Bandy Professor of Preaching and Coordinator of the Initiative in Religious Practices and Practical Theology, points to Marilynne Robinson’s When I Was a Child I Read Books as the last good book he read. “This collection of essays by the author of the acclaimed novel Gilead is both lyrical and theologically provocative,” he notes. Long especially appreciated the essay “Wondrous Love,” in which Robinson says she has arrived at that place in her life when the old hymns “move me so deeply I have difficulty even speaking about them.” Next on Long’s list is a re-read of Heretics by G.K. Chesterton
Carol A. Newsom, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Old Testament, recommends Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson. The title comes from what Winterson’s mother said when the future novelist confessed that she was a lesbian, “but this autobiography is less about coming to terms with one’s sexuality than it is about how books and reading can save your life,” says Newsom. “It will be cherished by anyone who understands the transformative power of stories.”
Assistant Professor of Theology and Culture Andrea C. White is reading Unfinished Business: Black Women, The Black Church, and the Struggle to Thrive in America by Keri Day. “Its attention to poverty makes it an important work since the topic is too seldom addressed in the literature of womanist thought,” says White. “I have purchased it three times because I keep giving it away before I can finish reading it!”
On Literature and Pastoral Care
Karen Scheib, associate professor of pastoral care and pastoral theology and director of Candler’s Women, Theology, and Ministry program, shares thoughts on the latest books that have moved her.
I recently read Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a novel in short stories. Olive is simultaneously a sympathetic and an annoying character. She is ruthlessly honest with others, but not always with herself. As the novel develops, you see her deepening her self-understanding as well as her appreciation for the joys and sorrows of life and the endurance it requires.
Another novel that made a significant impression on me recently was Tinkers by Paul Harding. This novel occurs in the span of a few days as a man lies dying in his living room. As he recollects his life preparing for death, his own memories intertwine with those of his father, an epileptic, itinerant peddler, and his grandfather, a Methodist preacher struggling with madness.
Nothing much happens in either these novels, yet they are powerful stories of love, loss, and relationships, and offer profound insights into the human condition. I am most moved by literary fiction that is character driven. I suppose the attraction is my curiosity about the inner lives of individuals and the human condition, which is probably what led me into pastoral care in the first place.
I am trying to imagine ways I can make more use of literature in teaching pastoral care. I often use vignettes or case studies in my teaching, but literature can reveal the longings and struggles of the human heart in ways that are much more profound. Plus, it’s a way to bring something I love into the classroom.