JBU Reads: The 2012 Books
Elie Wiesel (b. 1928) has through many books sought to keep alive the memory of the Jewish Holocaust of the Second World War. Set in Hungary and Germany in 1944 and early 1945, Night is a memoir, chronicling the teenage Elie’s experience of living through the persecution of his family and fellow Jews, first by Hungarian police, and then by German Gestapo officers. The account moves from the ghettos of Elie’s hometown to concentration camps, located mainly at the infamous Auschwitz, and later at Buchenwald. Elie recounts the physical and emotional horror undergone by his father and himself, and the book ends with the liberation of the camp near the end of the war.
Steven Paschold, Research Services Librarian
As a Canadian citizen, born in British Columbia, Steven lived in the Western provinces of B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan. He received degrees in English and Librarianship from the University of British Columbia, and worked in a hospital library in Calgary, Alberta for several years. Steven moved to Siloam Springs in 2004 and enjoys working as Research Services Librarian. His personal and research interests include regionalism in American and Canadian literature, especially the Prairies and Southern California; liturgy and literature; religion and film; and American films of 1946-1951.
Steven’s Essay – Value of the Book
Elie Wiesel’s lifelong passion has been to admonish the world to remember the horrendous events in Europe during the Second World War, especially the persecution of the Jews. As these events transpired over sixty-five years ago, it is especially important for students to know about the situations that Wiesel recounts in his memoir Night. In addition, this year’s theme for JBU Reads is Creation, Fall, and Redemption, and the book relates to these theological issues.
A reader of Night will readily determine that the Fall looms large in the book, with its accounts of inhuman treatment of prisoners by guards, and of prisoners by other prisoners. The smoky concentration camp crematory provides its own ominous presence throughout. But the Creation is apparent as well, especially at the beginning of the book, where we observe a fairly normal state of affairs prior to the start of Jewish persecution.
Despite the horror of the events, the reader can glimpse aspects of Redemption. On the human level, we sometimes see kindness expressed by guards to prisoners, and some prisoners intentionally seek to look after each other in the camp. On the spiritual level, Wiesel claims to have lost his faith in God. But is this loss of faith absolute, or does Wiesel actually sense that God is not present? Apparently some of the Jewish prisoners are devout believers. Glimmers of hope and faith are present, and students are encouraged to consider seriously the ways that God makes Himself known even in the midst of the worst atrocities.
Same Kind of Different as Me
Ron Hall & Denver Moore
A dangerous, homeless drifter who grew up picking cotton in virtual slavery; an upscale art dealer accustomed to the world of Armani and Chanel; a gutsy woman with a stubborn dream: this is a story so incredible no novelist would ever dare dream it.
It begins outside a burning plantation hut in Louisiana . . . and an East Texas honky-tonk . . . and, without a doubt, in the heart of God. It unfolds in a Hollywood hacienda . . . an upscale New York gallery . . . a downtown dumpster . . . a Texas ranch. Gritty with pain and betrayal and brutality, this true story also shines with an unexpected, life-changing love.
Erin Abramovitz, Student
I am a Senior Family and Human Service major. I am from Little Rock Arkansas. I am about to graduate and am looking to get a job with the Department of Human Services working with foster children. I really like bacon, crosswords, and watching the NCAA tournament.
Erin’s Essay – Value of the Book
I do not see this as a book about reconciliation between black people and white people. Instead, I see clearly that this book details how God uses broken people to accomplish his will, not those with the most knowledge or fancy words. I will highlight one particularly powerful part in the book that demonstrates God’s redemption of sinners.
Ron is the rich art dealer who has befriended Denver, the homeless man from Louisiana. One day Ron decides that he is going to accompany Denver to the home where Mr. Ballantine lives. When he walks in, he is bombarded with a filthy room. Ron has to leave after a while because he cannot stand the stench. Denver stays and cleans up after the old man who hates Denver because he is black. Ron writes this when he leaves Mr. Ballantine’s place: “But Denver served invisibly loved without fanfare. The tables had turned, and I now feared that it was he who would catch and release me, a person who lacked true compassion, who perhaps wasn’t a catch worth keeping.” Earlier Denver tells Ron that he does not want to enter into a catch and release type friendship with him—that if they were to be friends they would be friends for a lifetime, and Ron is now struck by the fact it was he who did not deserve Denver to stick around. This is only snippet of the powerful ways Denver and Ron’s friendship changes each other’s lives in incredible ways. Read the book to discover more.
The Color of Water
Plot: As a boy in Brooklyn, James McBride knew that his mother was different. But when he asked about it, she'd simply say, "I'm light-skinned". Later he wondered if he was different too, and asked his mother if he was black or white. "You're a human being", she snapped. "Educate yourself or you'll be a nobody!" When James asked what the color of God was, she said, "God is the color of water". As an adult, McBride finally persuaded his mother to tell the story. Her story was of a rabbi's daughter, born in Poland and raised in the South, who fled Harlem, married a black man, founded a Baptist church, and put 12 children through college. This is James McBride's tribute to his eccentric and determined mother, and an exploration of what family means.
Dr. Jacob Stratman, Assistant Professor of English
Dr. Stratman serves as Assistant Professor and Chair of the English department, as well as the coordinator for JBU Reads
Dr. Stratman’s Essay – Value of the Book
This is a story about identity—about the process of understanding who we are and whose we are. This is a story about a young black man trying to come to grips with his identity; and yet, it’s a story about a young Jewish woman and her discovery of Christ’s love. You will see quickly that McBride’s story transcends race and culture in the attempts to redeem much fragmentation caused by racism, classism, sexism, and general ignorance. The Color of Water is a tough book to read, for sure. James McBride attempts to discover himself by making a lot of bad decisions. You will read about hatred of all stripes. You will read about confusion that boarders on despair. And, yet, there is hope. As McBride writes, "Mommy loved God. She went to church each and every Sunday, the only white person in sight, butchering the lovely hymns with a singing voice that sounded like a cross between a cold engine trying to crank on an October morning and a whining Maytag washer" (45). And later she whispers, "I accepted Jesus that day and He has never let me down from that day to this" (235). Ultimately, though, this story is about a loving God—one that “began a good work in you [and] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
Peace like a River
Plot: “Hailed as one of the year's top five novels by Time, and selected as one of the best books of the year by nearly all major newspapers, national bestseller Peace Like a River captured the hearts of a nation in need of comfort. In "lyrical, openhearted prose", Leif Enger tells the story of eleven-year-old Reuben Land, an asthmatic boy who has reason to believe in miracles. Along with his sister and father, Reuben finds himself on a cross-country search for his outlaw older brother who has been controversially charged with murder. Their journey is touched by serendipity and the kindness of strangers, and its remarkable conclusion shows how family, love, and faith can stand up to the most terrifying of enemies, the most tragic of fates. “
Brent Swearingen, Instructional Services Librarian
Brent Swearingen is the Instructional Services Librarian and Coordinator of Undergraduate Scholarship at JBU. When he’s not playing with his three daughters, he enjoys outdoor activities and cooking Southern food. His wife, Carla, is a chemistry professor at JBU.
Brent’s Essay – Value of the Book
Set in the stark landscapes of the Great Plains, Peace like a River begins with a miracle. Reuben Land is born with “swampy lungs”, unable to breathe. Commanded to breathe by his father, the saintly and mysterious Jeremiah, Reuben gains his breath and lives on to serve as the witness for the events of the book. Told with echoes of the parables of the lost sheep and the prodigal son, Peace like a River recounts the journey of the Land family as the seek out a family member who has fled the law after a murder. Along the way, miracles recur, evil is encountered, and sacrifices are made. The book ends with an event both heartbreaking and redemptive.
The novel is populated with great characters. Davy is the prodigal brother who can’t seem to find the peace his father possesses. Reuben is Davy’s asthmatic eleven-year-old brother, who serves as the book’s narrator and idolizes his brother. Swede is their younger sister, a fan of Westerns and a writer of epic poetry. Jeremiah is their otherworldly father, who works as a humble janitor but seems to be accompanied by miracles wherever he goes. Other vividly drawn characters appear throughout the book, but the Dakota landscape also plays an important role as we read about “skies so cold frost paisleyed the gun barrels” and the Badlands, where the ground burns with fire.
Peace like a River is a powerful and beautifully written story that will stay with you long after you have closed its covers.
The Help tells a series of interrelated stories from Jackson, Mississippi, in the early 1960s. These stories show us the intersection of two very different worlds – the white upper, middle class, and the poor black women who clean their homes and raise their children. Author Kathryn Stockett does a masterful job of bring characters in both worlds to life in ways that infuriate, inspire and make us laugh. One reviewer states, “Stockett’s richly accomplished debut novel inventively explores the unspoken ways in which the nascent civil rights and feminist movements threatened the southern status quo.” More than that it speaks to issues of class, race, opportunity and faith today.
Rod Reed, University Chaplain
Rod Reed leads the Office of Christian Formation in developing programs and processes that help students grow spiritually, one of which is chapel. Mostly, he loves getting to know students and helping them develop an ever-growing relationship with Christ that is big enough for whatever life brings. When he's not in his office, the classroom, or the Cathedral, you might find him playing ping pong at one of the tables on campus. He and his wife Michelle have four children.
Rod’s Essay – Value of the Book
The Help is one of my favorite books from 2011. It drew me into a world that seems so foreign, but still influences the world we live in today. It’s fascinating to read about people who long to make a difference in their own lives and in the world, but are constrained by the culture in which they live. This theme is just as true of our lives. In a very important sense, this book is about racial discrimination in the 1960s, but it is more than that. It is about the essence of being human in a deeply flawed world. It is about the incongruities that we all live with as we try and live lives of integrity and faithfulness in the midst of our own blind spots and failings. It is all of this and more, wrapped up in an enthralling story that generated all sorts of emotions within me.