Summer reading I: Olive Kitteridge and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

Summer reading I- Olive Kitteridge and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.jpg

I finally read Olive Kitteridge, the Pulitzer-Prize winning novel by Elizabeth Strout, which came out in 2008. I loved it. Please consider adding it to your summer fiction reading list. It's a novel written as thirteen short stories all including to a greater or lesser degree the main character, Olive Kitteridge, a retired school teacher who lives in the town of Crosby, Maine. The multiple stories, rather than a single plot line, let the reader see Olive from the perspectives of many other characters and within the context of a variety of situations. I found it a "true" way of exploring a character and honoring the multiple dimensions of a person.

I heard Strout speak at Calvin College's Festival of Faith and Writing back in 2008. I wrote down in my notes that she said she tries in her writing to give an authentic picture of human experience so that the reader's life can be expanded and compassion deepened. She certainly accomplished this in Olive Kitteridge. What's more she clearly loved Olive, a fine model of the creator-created relationship seen in good fiction, and in life.

I also just finished reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. A friend recommended it to me and now I recommend it to you. It's the story of a man who goes to mail a letter to an old friend dying of cancer and instead of mailing it, he just keeps walking from one tip of England to the other in the hopes of seeing his friend in person and perhaps saving her life. The pilgrimage makes for a wonderful story and it probably won't surprise the reader that Harold saves his own life in the process. In Virginia Woolf's last book, Between the Acts, she wrote that "plot was only there to beget emotion." The twists and turns of Harold's journey certainly did that but they also generated hard-won insight and wisdom.

What both of these books have in common is they both underscore how complex any one individual is and how difficult it is to really know the circumstances of another person's life.

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[Photo: taken from my favorite hammock]