I attended a lengthy business meeting last week in Dallas in which we were shown a fast-paced video filled with statistics related to the rapidly changing world of information delivery. Online newspapers, digital advertising and YouTube video are growing at a staggering rate of speed. The morning following the meeting, while eating breakfast in the hotel, I found great comfort in two full-page ads in the newspaper. Both were holiday gift guides and both were for books.
One carried the theme the “12 Books of Christmas” and included Christmas-themed books from authors like Wally Lamb, an Oprah Book Club winner, to Garrison Keillor’s offering “A Christmas Blizzard.” The second page was a listing of the cream of the crop of visually dazzling “coffee table” books in 10 popular categories. The topics ranged from photography and art to fashion and home décor.
Books have always been popular gift ideas with our family. In fact, last year two gift packages containing the same book title were opened Christmas morning. “The Longest Trip Home” was a second offering by John Grogan, the author of the immensely popular “Marley and Me” that was made into a full length motion picture a couple of years earlier. Grogan is a newspaper columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, but is originally from Michigan. He was raised in a very devout Catholic family home just outside of Detroit.
His family experience growing up sounded similar to that of many of my early school-age friends. Neighborhoods were bonded by the Catholic parish and the city had a strong parochial school system. The faith and fervor that came so effortlessly to Grogan’s parents somehow eluded him. His youthful adventures, as told through his well-written prose, are filled with laugh-out-loud humor. And as with “Marley and Me,” he writes of mortality and grace, spirit and faith and a powerful love of family. The title of the book derives from a trip home to his family following the onset of an illness to one of his parents. Grogan gains an understanding of the importance of faith as both strength and a weakness in the relationship of his family.
Sitting at the computer today thinking back over the reading material of the year, faith seemed to be a common theme in several of my favorites, perhaps by coincidence more than design, but a common thread just the same. Another novel was an intriguing treatment of man meets God. In “The Shack” a father’s youngest daughter is abducted on a family vacation and there is evidence that she was murdered in an old shack in the woods. Four years later the father receives a letter, presumably from God, to return to the shack. Once there, William P. Young leads readers on an imaginative journey, and through his integrity and creativity we arrive at an understanding of God’s engaging nature. He opens up a door to a better understanding of the Holy Trinity – the relationship between the father, son and Holy Spirit.
Another selection is a work in progress. I have not finished the reading because it takes a while to wade through the subject matter and some of the detail. “Under the Banner of Heaven” by John Krakauer is a non-fiction treatment of the plural marriage phenomena of the Fundamentalist Latter-day Saints. The book uses a brutal murder of a young mother and her daughter as a starting point to research the violence and unyielding faith of a fracture group of fundamentalists.
The treatment of questioning faith by Grogan, finding understanding and meaning of faith by Young and the unyielding faith described by Krakauer stimulated a lot of discussion and debate in our family over the year. My wife and I were both confirmed as young people in the churches of our family, and during our marriage have attended several different denominations and churches. I am not suggesting a causal relationship, but we were confirmed again last Sunday as adults. Good literature can and does have the power to provoke a call to action in readers.
Robert Brincefield is vice president and publisher of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Sunday. He may be reached by e-mail at bob.brincefield@