Of course the Caldecotts and the Newberys, the Pulitzers and those other titles you find and love that don’t fit into any award at all aren’t going to solve the problems of Kristin and everyone in her life, but I kind of want to take a few of them by the hand (others I’d like to yank by their shirt collar), lead them to a library where it’s quiet, and smells like words, sit them down and say, “Here. Read this. Or let me read it to you.”
Here are some books I wish a few of the characters in Kristin Lavransdatter knew about:
- Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith — This story follows Ivy Rowe through her letters to others, beginning at age 12. It is charming and honest. Kristin would find a kindred spirit in the passionate Ivy, who, even though I read about her almost 20 years ago, I cannot get out of my head.
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson — Here is a memoir told in poetry, and Woodson does for South Carolina and New York City what Undset does for Norway. I also think Kristin would learn or at least wonder about a thing or two regarding her mother’s story after reading about Woodson’s mom.
- The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo — A modern day Eve story, and one where she comes to terms with what it is she desires, how she sees the world, and what she wants to do it in. I think Kristin would have a hard time with this story, which is why I think she ought to read it.
- Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner — I hesitate to use the word “luxury” in regards to having a crisis of faith (mostly because I’m terrified of Lauren Winner), but to be able to express it, to be able to create something from that experience, is an opportunity Ragnfrid didn’t have. Lauren’s words would have helped Ragnfrid’s words — perhaps they would’ve given Ragnfrid language to try on and see that she is (still and always) so lovingly held.
- A Place to Live by Natalia Ginzburg — A series of essays exploring home, where one finds oneself at home, motherhood, and writing. I love how honestly Ginzburg handles and reveals herself, and it is something I can relate to. Ginzburg shows it is the expression of doubt that leads to faith.
- Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz — A story about two boys who are best friends, and so obviously in love with each other but one does not realize it while the other one does. I’m not saying Lavrans would’ve read this and said, “Oh. OH, so THAT’S what’s going on with me.” Probably he wouldn’t, but I think the story is so powerfully written that I believe it would open up a possibility that love knows no boundaries, no matter what it is we do to build them.
- True Believer by Virginia Euwer Wolff — A novel told in a series of poems, here is a story exploring faith and love and what it means to believe.
- All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy — I’m actually relieved Lavrans isn’t a real person because I’m afraid if he were, and he read this book, it might kill him. I could barely stand to read about John Cole who felt so out of place in the world but loved it so — I just don’t know if Lavrans could handle it. Still, I recommend it, and suggest he read it with a strong drink and a notebook.
- All the Harry Potter books because dude legit needs an adventure. I’d tell him to pay close attention to Ron Weasley.
- On that same note, Erlend would (pardon the pun) devour Justin Cronin’s trilogy: The Passage, The Twelve, and City of Mirrors. These are the scariest books I’ve ever read, filled with complicated characters I didn’t want to love. I would suggest Erlend read them with a friend and discuss frequently.
- Into the Wild by John Krakauer — One summer I decided I was going to read all the Oprah books, and was annoyed when this title popped up on the list. I think I was 25 when I walked into the downtown South Bend Public Library, held the book in my hands and read the blurb about Chris McCandless selling all he had and driving to Alaska where he dies because he ate the wrong kind of berry. “Why would I read this?” I thought wishing Oprah had picked another Maeve Binchy book. But I read it, and the book left an imprint on me so much so that when I finished it in a Barnes and Noble (Chris would hate Barnes and Noble, and don’t even get me started on what he’d say about Amazon), I immediately wrote John Krakauer telling him how much I loved his book. He wrote me back — handwritten, too. I still have the postcard.
Guys, Simon gets on my last nerve. He makes me nervous every time he enters a scene. I admit I probably get invested in stories beyond what is good for me, but I take it personally that Lavrans thinks of Simon as God’s gift to, well, everything. He’s that guy who sweet talks his way into getting a hall pass when he ditched chemistry (actually, it probably would’ve been something in the humanities), or the preppy politician who smells too much of Binaca. He doesn’t fool me, and I want to give him a book to read for punishment. Leviticus, maybe? I know that wouldn’t work though, so how about these:
- About A Boy by Nick Hornby — Simon needs a book about a super cool guy who doesn’t know it, or won’t admit it, but is lost and is too afraid to be vulnerable until someone comes along and gives him the strength to change. I think this book would confuse Simon at first, but maybe if someone read it to him he would enjoy the story. Or, he could watch the movie, first.
- Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen — I’ve not met a boy or a girl who doesn’t love this book, and I think it’s because the story is told in alternating chapters by Bryce and Juli. It is eye-opening to see how differently they see one event, as well as how their perspective about the other person shifts and changes. I need Simon to think about someone else besides Simon, and I think this book will help.
- There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom by Louis Sachar — I was hesitant to read this with Hadley and Harper years ago, because I thought it was going to be predictable and shallow (shows how open-minded I am), but this is a book with a main character who is so utterly loveable, I am grateful the girls and I could spend some time in his life. Plus, there are some parts that are so funny we had to put the book down because we were all laughing so hard. Come to think of it, every one of these characters would do well to laugh, so maybe all of them should read this book.
I don’t think the point of a story is to solve a problem, anyway. I’m not interested in the point of things these days, and especially in July. I’m interested in trying to hold still when the undertow of Lake Michigan tugs at my ankles, and I’m interested in letting go and sliding into the water. I’m interested in the tang of nostalgia I taste when I pop blueberries into my mouth or bite into a white peach. I’m interested in shifting myself on a beach towel so the curves of the sand hug the curves and hollows of my body and I close my eyes, and I settle myself somewhere different for a little while.
Happy Summer Reading to you all.
Callie Feyen (Project Redux founder) holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University, and is a writer for Coffee+Crumbs, TS Poetry Press, and The Banner. She is the author of two books: The Teacher Diaries, and Twirl, and is working on her third –a book about JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Callie lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her husband Jesse, and their two daughters, Hadley and Harper. Follow her on Instagram at @calliefeyen or online at calliefeyen.com.