My Swiss Book List to everybody who guessed at the theme in my summer reading list.  Ross and Taya got it right.  It’s Switzerland.  In particular, it’s authors who lived in Switzerland.

Why the focus? In less than a week, I’ll be staying there, in Zurich, for a couple weeks with my best friend and her family.  I recently came across a travel section of a book store that paired travel books with novels set in that particular area of the world.  I thought it was a great idea.  But, I took it to another level and pulled from theologians and influential thinkers who lived there as well.  

Part of my thinking here is to capture the Zeitgeist of culture, not just a sense of the landmarks and the history there.  Certain thinkers and ideas contribute to the atmosphere and people of a place, just as much as the landscape does.  So, my goal is to try to pick up a little of that in the books I’m reading.  Absorb Switzerland at the book level too.

So, here’s the connections, for those of you who’d like to see how these authors have a bit of Switzerland in them.

The God who is There by Francis Schaeffer 

Schaeffer was a gifted American pastor and theologian who moved to Switzerland and founded L’Abri, a retreat for Christian reflection and study.  

Calvin for Armchair Theologians by Christopher Elwood

Originally a Frenchman, John Calvin fled to Geneva after converting to Protestantism.  The famous protestant reformer was kicked out of the city for awhile, but eventually returned to live out his final days there, where he is now buried.   I wasn’t up to carrying around the full 2 volumes of Calvin’s Institutes with me, and this book seemed like it would be a decent summary of the basics of his thought, mixed with some biographical information.

The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Joyce lived in Zurich during two key times in his life, while he was writing his masterpieces Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake, and for his last years.  He’s buried somewhere in Zurich, and maybe I’ll get a chance to track down his grave while I’m there.  He moved to Zurich shortly after finishing this particular book, but it’s arguably his most personal and easiest to read.  I still might drag along Ulysses, but it’s not exactly a “beach read.”

Dr. Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene

I love Graham Greene.  If you haven’t read The End of the Affair, make sure you put that on your “to read list.”  He’s a catholic writer who weaves his faith into his writing in such an insightful, modern way.  Greene moved to Lake Geneva at the end of his life, and this is one of his last novels.  The story is set in Geneva, which is a double bonus.  I’ve never read it, so I’m just chomping at the bit to start.  It might be the first book on the airplane.  Oh, and this is the book I thought might be the giveaway because “Geneva” is in the title so clearly.  

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

This is arguably the best known book from the canons of Swiss literature.  A children’s classic, I think it’s rich with meaning for us adults as well.  Spyri is native Swiss, and the story is set in the Alps.  I’ll be reading the English translation, of course.  My German speaking skills are laughable.  Probably more laughable than my Spanish ones.  I’m sure I’ll have stories to share in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned for pictures and writing from my travels.

Published in: on July 15, 2008 at 11:50 am  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. OH Amy! How fabulous! To travel to the land of the Reformation…it is quite something to wrap one’s mind around while you are in Zurich. If you are interested, I spent two weeks in Switzerland a year ago, and two days in Zurich. I wrote a very long post about my impressions of Zurich in terms of the reformation. Check my sidebar for Travel Journal.
    AL: I recalled that you’ve mentioned a recent trip there. I’d love to get your suggestions for things to see/do in Zurich. I’m not sure if I’ll stray too far outside of the Zurich area, which is actually quite fine by me. There’s a ton to see and do in that beautiful city, and the lake is lovely this time of year, perfect for swimming!

  2. If you were to “stray” outside of Zurick, I would strongly suggest taking the train to St. Gallen. It is a about a 45 minute trip through lovely countryside. One of the most famous and lovely libraries in the world is there, as is a textile museum, and the whole town is shut off from cars so walking about or taking a tour is a great way to see everything there. I’d say the tour of St. Gallen was one of the highlights of our two week trip.

    I do hope you will read my posts on Zurich, and would be kind enough to comment on my thoughts concerning the reformation.
    AL: Oooh, that sounds wonderful! Thanks for the suggestion! I’ll be sure to stop by your posts too.

  3. Amy, that sounds like a wonderful time…two weeks in Switzerland with your best friend – wow!
    Your book list is interesting, to be sure.
    I’ve read Graham Greene’s Monsignor Quixote (after seeing the movie years ago)…wonderful. And Travels With My Aunt….but that’s it. I do like his style. Thanks for the recommendation. Sometime you might like to read Grahame on Capri by Shirley Hazzard….if you don’t already know it.
    Have a fabulous time in Switzerland; I look forward to the photos and narratives!
    AL: I’ve never heard of Hazzard’s book, but I bet it’s really interesting. Greene was a very intriguing sounding person, with a possible spy element to him to boot. I’ll put that one on my to read list! Thanks!

  4. Just for argument’s sake, I would suggest tackling a little real Swiss litterature: Dürrenmatt and Frisch would make pretty good starters. Swiss writing isn’t limited to them (or Heidi stories for that matter). If you are listing foreigners, then you could add Hemingway, Le Carré, Fleming or even Nabokov ;-)) to name but a few!
    AL: Thanks for the recommendations. I honestly hadn’t considered these writers, and now I know a bit more about them. But, I am a bit limited by what I have accessible through my local library. Perhaps when I’m in Switzerland, I’ll be able to find some English translations of Swiss writers. Then again, maybe not. But, it’s good to have a sense of the prominent writers from the country.

    In creating my list, I admit I was picking and choosing books that most lined up with my own personal interests. All these books have been ones I’ve been wanting to read for awhile, and this is the perfect opportunity to bring them together in dialogue with one another.

    But perhaps, per your suggestion and the suggestions of my hosts while I’m there, I’ll branch out to some more native Swiss authors.

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