Our series of Bethel history professors sharing their summer reading plans continues with Chris Gehrz:
Peter Englund, The Sorrow and the Beauty: An Intimate History of the First World War ($17.99)
Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 ($10.85)
Jennifer D. Keene, World War I: The American Soldier Experience ($15.56)
I’m also working on a summer reading list for the Bethel students who’ve already signed up to join me in traveling to England, Belgium, France, and Germany next January to study WWI. These three books will certainly show up on that list. Englund’s is perhaps the most acclaimed popular history of the war to come out in recent years, and refreshingly, it’s both international in its cast of characters and shows the war to be more than tactical and strategic move and counter-move. Hochschild, best known for his investigation of the Belgian Congo (King Leopold’s Ghost), is more narrowly focused on the British experience, with particular interest in those who criticized and opposed the war.
In both cases, I’m intrigued to see how authors trained as journalists engage in the study and telling of history, as opposed to an academic historian like Jennifer Keene, whose book I’m considering adopting as a text for the course — in order to help us keep an eye on the American experience of the Great War even as we immerse ourselves in western European societies.
Alan Furst, Mission to Paris: A Novel ($13.99, due June 12)
Stephen Carter, The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln: A Novel ($17.07, due July 10)
Frederick Buechner, Godric: A Novel ($11.34)
Fiction, even historical fiction, is not a key interest of mine. However, I do have some favorite novelists. I recently mentioned Furst’s new spy novel in a recent post on my personal blog on “moral histories” of the Second World War. Stephen Carter is a well-respected law professor at Yale and a Christian public intellectual (The Culture of Disbelief), but about a decade ago he also started to dabble in novel-writing, producing a sophisticated work of legal fiction, The Emperor of Ocean Park, that was also enlightening about the worlds of chess and the African-American upper middle class. Add in the fact that his newest novel is a work of alternate history, and I’m already sold!
Then Frederick Buechner is an odd case in my reading history: I know him primarily from his published sermons, but have never read one of the novels for which he’s better known. I’ll rectify that with his retelling of the life of the 12th century English saint Godric of Finchale, suggested by multiple people in a recent New York Times Twitter poll on the best religious fiction.
Kathleen Norris, Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life ($10.38)
Lauren Winner, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis ($11.99)
I don’t read a lot of autobiographies or biographies, but I have a fondness for a specific niche within that genre: spiritual memoirs. Two by favorite authors have been gathering dust on my shelf for long enough and need to be read. Both turn, in different ways, on the ending of marriages: in her reflection on “soul-weariness,” poet Kathleen Norris (The Cloister Walk, Amazing Grace) also tells of the death of her husband; her divorce is an element of historian Winner’s (Girl Meets God) memoir of growing doubt.