Reimagining American Community

old-bookcase_161087-1280x800If Solidarity Hall were a physical place, coffee (or tea if preferred) would be perpetually brewed, and its walls would be lined, no doubt, with shelves of books of all different colors and categories.

Books are indispensable when it comes to acquiring wisdom about ourselves, the universe we live in, and the people (human and otherwise) who are involved in our lives. They serve as rich tools as we attempt to nurture our communities and grow into saner stewards of our lives, families, and vocations.

In our personal libraries, some books must resign themselves to eke out an existence in boxes because of space limitations, while others are tucked away in desk drawers or act as foundations for flower vases or lamps. There has to be, though, that one shelf on which live the books we cherish most, the ones we most frequently thumb through or refer to when we need advice, the books we buy second and third copies of when we see used copies on sale, so as to have a copy on hand to give to friends and acquaintances.

If Solidarity Hall had such a shelf, a visiting browser would surely find at least one copy of each of these:

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Robinson’s story reads more like deliberate prayer than a novel. Her message is grace, and grace is gently spread through this tale of an aging minister writing a letter to his young son.

 Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

As an adventurous, intriguing illustration of spiritual autobiography, Defoe’s iconic story of a castaway’s shipwreck and subsequent redemption inspires conversation about salvation, vocation, and treatment of the other.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Commonly quoted but less frequently read. Steinbeck wrestles, achingly and thoughtfully, with what it means to be accepted, to love, and to be free from guilt.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Love is or it ain’t.” This Toni Morrison standard is agonizing but forces its reader to confront painful realities about history and the human soul.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s narrative is a brave and heartbreaking illustration of the tension between success and morality, as well as a delving into that question of what it means to be alive.

 My Antonia by Willa Cather

This enjoyable Bildungsroman is a nod to the settling of the American west and explores what it means to truly know and venerate a specific, beloved place.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

A Tolkien or Lewis pick seems predictable, but obviousness can be, and is here, the mark of an epic. The tale of Bilbo and his dwarf companions provides wisdom and whimsy for the reader from the nursery to the deathbed.

The Moviegoer by Walker Percy

Percy’s novel about “the search” and his conception of malaise as seen through the eyes of a cinema-obsessed wonderer in New Orleans is not just for the Southerner, but for the human wondering about anything and everything.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

An accessible, entertaining, and heartwarming story about friendship, history, and mysticism.

 One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Because “the secret of a good old age is simply an honorable pact with solitude.” Expansive and enchanting.

What are ten of the novels on your special shelf?  What books do you buy to give away, and why?

About the Author
Micah Levi Conkling is a graduate student and composition instructor in the English department at West Virginia University. He’s from Kansas City, Missouri, and will always consider himself a Midwesterner. His research interests include postsecularism, literature and religion, and American studies. Micah blogs at