We began The Diversity Challenge because we believe strongly that books are one of our best tools for seeing into the lives and experiences of people different from ourselves. As Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop famously wrote:
Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created and recreated by the author. When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books. (Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives, 1(3), ix–xi.)
A small window can be the beginning of something big for many students and adults. Our Fall theme is religious identity, and I am going to highlight a number of books from our list to get you started.
The Chosen by Chaim Potok
I read this book a long time ago and who knows if it would stand up to re-read at this point in my life (the dangers of re-reading--clearly another blog post), but I remember it very fondly. Two Jewish teens in 1940s Brooklyn become unlikely friends and deal with their fathers, growing up and their religious identities. At its heart, The Chosen is a story of friendship and family, but Jewish traditions and themes run firmly throughout the book. Readers familiar and unfamiliar with Judaism can gain a lot of insight from Potok’s classic.
Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
This book holds a firm spot among the best books that I read in 2017. A re-imagining of Sophocles’ Antigone, Home Fire follows three siblings from a Muslim family in London as they move towards the inevitable tragic ending. I was most struck by the scenes involving the radicalization of the brother--the way Shamsie illustrated the evolution from innocent relationship to extremist involvement really demonstrated how easily anyone can be changed. Ultimately, though, Home Fire is an exploration of the universal themes of family and love.
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
It must be said that Barbara Kingsolver is my favorite author. The Poisonwood Bible is probably my least favorite book of hers, but I still recommend it for readers not afraid of a sprawling, depressing, sometimes confusing novel about a missionary family in 1960s Africa. Nathan Price, a minister, takes his wife and four daughters to the Congo for a year that turns into much more. A lot happens in this book, and most of it is not very pretty, but Kingsolver’s style and story-telling always win the day for me.