Novels & Other Stories

A few years ago Jason and I sat down and attempted to hash out what it means to be a Rust.  What does it mean to be part of our family?   If everything is important, then nothing is important, so we decided to narrow it down to 5 core values for our family of four.  One of them is story-telling and it breaks into 3 parts…


Telling the Family Stories

We want to know our family history.  We want Isaiah and Gryffin to have a strong sense of where they come from and who came before them.  This means exploring our own lineage and re-telling the same family stories again and again, year after year.  And not just the good stories with happy outcomes but the more nefarious ones, too.    In an op-ed piece featured in The Christian Science Monitor in June of this year, Jim Sollisch writes about story-telling and kids, saying,

“The more you know about your family’s story, the more you feel a part of something bigger. You see yourself as a character in an ongoing saga, a narrative of successes and failures, of striving – because that’s the story of every family, really…So the next time your children ask for a story, you don’t have to conjure up faraway kingdoms and alien creatures. Tell them about the time you hit the game-winning shot. Tell them about their grandfather, who lived in America for 40 years without ever learning English. Tell them about their grandmother who, when her husband died, talked her way into his job as a traveling auto parts salesman back in 1944. That’s a story my mother told my brother and me, a story that reminded us we come from a family that doesn’t take no for an answer.”


Learning & Telling the Stories of Others

This means that we need to seek out the stories of other people. We need to read good books and be good listeners, ask good questions and try new foods.  We need to listen to new music and learn how to tell the stories of those who might not be able to tell their own.

Living a Good Story

We want our lives to be stories worth telling.  This one is a bit abstract, I know, and difficult to explain to the boys at this stage but so many things align here.  At this point it’s still pretty basic.  Recently we’ve been talking about dishonesty, for example.   We’ve been explaining to the boys what it means to tell a lie and how it might affect the story of their lives.  Jason told them that telling a lie usually feels yucky, like stinky cheese inside of you.  Nobody likes to smell stinky cheese.


This week I’ve been focusing on the second component.  I was asked to compile a list of novels for our church’s Faith & Race resource page and I really enjoyed the task.   Books, novels in particular, are such a great way to learn the stories of other people. Keith Oatley, a professor in the department of Human Development and Applied Psychology at the University of Toronto, says that stories create space for empathy.  When we connect with the characters we begin to identify with their struggle and share their frustrations with the societal problems that plague them.   He believes that fictional stories can more readily tap into our emotions and have a greater impact than nonfiction (though he himself writes novels so he might be biased!).  Anyhow, here are a few that I came up with for the Faith & Race resource page.  I tried to pick stories that explore issues of race and ethnicity that were also particularly well-written and insightful.

.The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Rain of Gold by Victor Villasenor
Americanah by  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Native Speaker by Chang-rae Lee
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Nora Zeale Hurston
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
I’ve also been thinking about this with regard to our kids lately.  Gryffin is reading more and more these days and it’s so tempting to just to grab the first 3 books off the shelf at the library and call it a day.  But we want to be intentional about which books he’s reading and which stories he’s absorbing.  As a white male, there will never be a dearth of books to chose from that are telling his story.   We have to make a concerted effort to find books that are telling stories other than his own.  I have a feeling this will be an ongoing effort.
What books would you add to my list?  Got any recommendations for kids?

4 thoughts on “Novels & Other Stories

  1. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
    And the Earth Did Not Devour Him by Tomas Rivera

  2. Native Son by Richard Wright, The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, and Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. Oh, and for the little guys, Ron’s Big Mission by Rose Blue, but I already got it for Gryff for Christmas next year!

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