Thanks 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.