Summer is here and I cannot wait to partake in one of my favorite personal traditions. For the past six years, on the first day of summer after I get out of classes, I go to a quiet park and read The Great Gatsby. I know, what kind of person rewards himself for finishing a rough semester by reading a book? Well, the kind of person that finds joy in stories.
Albert Camus, a famous twentieth century philosopher and fiction writer, once said that “Fiction is the lie in which we tell the truth.” This truth is made evident as Camus decided to record his philosophical musings in story form with such works as The Stranger and The Fall.
Even in the Bible, we find real historical events described in heart-pounding, dramatic, surprising narratives. In Scripture, there are no boring, fact-by-fact recountings of events like you would find in your long discarded high school history book. Instead, readers encounter gripping stories intermixed with stunning poetry and heartfelt laments. For life’s toughest questions, Scripture doesn’t give us the pat and simple answers we want to hear in propositional form. It gives complex and messy stories that reveals our hearts; the Bible tells us what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear.
Stories are also how we connect with one another. They are our social currency that we freely trade amongst our closest friends and complete strangers. It is through stories that we describe ourselves. I am not just a list of physical traits, but a person, complete with my own story. Ultimately, stories help us understand the world around us and help us connect with others in it. Yet, if we want to understand these things, we must dive deep into stories, especially fictional stories, that can help us learn to empathize through imaginary characters in imaginary worlds and discover new ways that their stories may reflect our own. The following stories are a great place to start this summer.
REFLECT: Becoming Yourself by Mirroring the Greatest Person in History – Thaddeus J. Williams
This book has fundamentally changed how I see the world and myself by painting a vivid portrait of Jesus. Through creative stories, humorous anecdotes, and top-notch biblical exegesis, Williams describes how we can only find our story by locating it with the story of Jesus. By reflecting Jesus wholistically, we ourselves become more whole-more who we are supposed to be.
Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling
This series needs no introduction, nor recommendation. I will say that this is certainly a literary masterpiece of our day. Whether you have read them before, watched the movies, or have never picked them up, it’s never too late to start. This popular series explores concepts like death, friendship, what it means to love and sacrifice.
Chronicles of Narnia – C.S. Lewis
Lewis dedicates the first novel to his granddaughter with these words, “I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales . . . But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it.” Children’s stories, especially fairy tales, can be some of the most enchanting and enlightening stories in existence. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia is another literary masterpiece weaving together ancient sacred truths in memorable fairytale moments.
Till We have Faces – C.S. Lewis
One of Lewis’ more unknown novels, Till We Have Faces is one of my favorites. The myth of Cupid and Psyche is expertly reimagined and retold in Lewis’ classic style. This book wrestles with the voice of God and hearing from him in the silence. If you want to get an idea of Lewis’ talent without committing to an entire series, this would be a good one!
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Perhaps one of the longer books I’ve read, but by far one of my favorites. I had little appreciation for Steinbeck, but this book turned that around for me. One story unfolding over three generations details the legacies of sinfulness, righteousness, and whether redemption is possible. Perhaps a narrative commentary on Genesis 4, Steinbeck captures a moment in American history and almost forces you to entertain his ideas in this context.
The Brothers Karamazov – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Considered to be one of the greatest novels ever written, Dostoyevsky’s story engages the reader at every emotional level. Exploring ideas about morality, redemption, and who God is, Dostoyevsky’s characters come to life within his world. It seems daunting at first, but after getting through the first few chapters, I couldn’t put it down. Definitely, a must read.
These books along with others like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, or even some short stories by Flannery O’Connor are fitting examples of lies that tell the truth. These stories attempt to wrestle with life’s most profound questions. I believe that if you take the time to read (or listen to) some of these books you will find yourself to be a person with greater empathy for others, a better understanding of oneself, and a deeper relationship with God.