- Abdou, Angie. Between (2014)
- Babiak, Todd. The Book of Stanley (2007)
We are all looking for a personal spiritual experience, and the world of marketing has stepped up to sell it to us. This is a satire of a retired man with unique powers tho attracts a group of very interesting characters as followers. They all seem to completely miss the point of the spiritual search. We can laugh at them, especially until we begin to see ourselves in one or more of them.
“Stanley’s white hair was wet, parted on the side, and he wore a distinctly unfashionable blue suit– to match the grey suit he had worn the previous evening. His tie was thin and old, all wrong, and his knot was too tight. This was Tanya’s special gift: instead of seeing this as flawed, she saw it as beautiful. Believers looking for someone uncorrupted in these cynical times, were growing tired of vain and vigorously coiffed men riding to their mega-churches in limousines and helicopters.” (p.153)
- Bedford, Sybille. A Favourite of the Gods (1963)
A privileged woman leads a charmed youth, but as those trappings (marriage, money, family status) lose their luster to Constanza, she begins to grapple with the idea of life having a bigger purpose. Set in the early twentieth century and written mid-century, the style is more formal than many contemporary audiences are used to, but its themes are universal.
“Her own conviction that this life was all there is to it, a single chance, now seemed to be an occasion for mourning, humility and tolerant good sense in living it, rather than for crowing.” (p.150)
- Bhattavharya, Rahul. The Sly Company of People Who Care (2011)
Written in the style of a travelogue, this seemingly autobiographical novel of a young man who experiences new cultures and begins to understand the consequences of colonialism. The descriptions of the people and places are very vivid. The narrator begins to explore his life’s purpose, and it (like the storytelling method) is not simple and neatly structured. The life journey is complicated for all of us, but the complexities are where the rewards lie.
“Running and seeking, they were sides of the same coin. I had run from a serious education, then from cricket reporting. From the expectation to ‘settle down’ I had run. And eventually I had run from India. Had I? Running or seeking? What were my duties, to whom? It stayed on me like dampness.” (p.220)
- Camus, Albert. The Stranger (1942), translated by Matthew Ward, 1989 English translation
An ordinary man gets involved in a murder, tried and convicted and sentenced to death. Exploring how meaning is created by society’s expectations and the ultimate meaningless of an individual who does not buy into this group meaning. A power study in how we all need to listen to our own voices.
“We walked on the beach for a long time. By now the sun was overpowering. It shattered into little pieces on the sand and water. I had the impression that Raymond knew where he was going, but I was probably wrong.” (p.55)
- Cather, Willa. One of Ours (1922)
A young man struggles to find his deeper meaning in his confined life, dictated by his family and farming responsibilities. As he thinks about what greater values he aspires to, war gives him the chance to feel part of something greater, but at what costs?
“He is convinced that the people who might mean something to him will always misjudge him and pass him by. He is not so much afraid of loneliness as he is of accepting cheap substitutes; of making excuses to himself for a teacher who flatters him, of waking up some morning to find himself admiring a girl merely because she is accessible. He has a dread of easy compromises, and he is terribly afraid of being fooled.”
- DeLillo, Don. White Noise (1985)
A witty sature about a history professor at a liberal arts college with a fairly typical life whose community becomes affected by an industrial accident. The novel explores the clutter of easy solutions and noisy media distractions in our lives, and how all of the busy work of our lives doesn’t stop a fear of death or a need for a greater purpose. The style of the writing is as scattered and intriguing as the ideas the novel forces us to think about.
“And I was not a believer in easy solutions, something to swallow that would rid my soul of an ancient fear. But I could not help thinking about that saucer-shaped tablet. Would it ever work, could it work for some and not for others?…. The drug core dissolving, releasing benevolent chemicals into my bloodstream, flooding the fear-of-death part of my brain.” (p.201)
- Irving, John. A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
“Since her death, Owen had hinted that the strongest force compelling him to attend Gravesend Academy—namely, my mother’s insistence—was gone. Those rooms allowed us to imagine what we might become—if not exactly boarders (because I would continue to live with Dan, and with Grandmother, and Owen would live at home), we would still harbor such secrets, such barely restrained messiness, such lusts, even, as these poor residents of Waterhouse Hall. It was our lives in the near future that we were searching for when we searched in those rooms, and therefore it was shrewd of Owen that he made us take our time.”
- Morais, Richard C. The Hundred-Foot Journey (2008)
A novel narrated by a young Indian boy whose life seems destined to revolve around food. His family has a history in the food business, and through a series of tests and trials, realizes that purpose. A simple writing style and a direct storytelling approach allow the human elements to shine form these realistic characters.
“I think he was physically struck by the fervency of my answer, that irrefutable call of destiny that spoke through me, and for a few moments, he could do nothing but stare intently at the cracks of the cobblestones beneath his feet….” (p.132)
- Mott, Jason. The Wonder of All Things (2014)
“There’s a word for that feeling, Macon,” she said. “It’s called childhood. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. And that sense that the world is this large, magical thing gets taken away with it. In that moment, you become an adult, and you lose your ability to see the wonder of all things. All you see from that point forward is how broken everything will one day be.”
- Okri, Ben. The Famished Road (1992)
- Potok, Chaim. My Name is Asher Lev (1972)
Asher Lev is a young Hasidic Jew who feels a great spiritual purpose in his life, but also a strong artistic calling. The novel explores the struggle many face between competing important forces in their lives. Asher largely resolves this by simply focusing in his two passions and making them the center of everything.
“You are, bluntly put, magnificient. Ingres would have been proud. You have a sense of that can only be a gift. Do your people believe drawing is a gift from God? Even though they dispise drawing? No doubt they believe it is a gift of Satan. Yes?” (p.211)
- Rawlings, Wendy. The Agnostics (2007)
A study of a couple over several decades, as they try to create and define what life is about for themselves and their children. The wife, Bev, becomes romantically involved with women, and this completely shakes up the couple’s views on the purpose of life.
“No one could explain with any clarity why love of this person and not that, why this person now and not that one now, why that one before or later…. Not even love could be preserved, and certainly not the reasons for love, which had no rationale or map. The goal of the world was never to preserve itself but to keep burning along. The world didn’t believe in anything.” (p.164)
- Shields, Carol. The Stone Diaries (1993)
- Winter, Jessica. Break in Case of Emergency (2016)
The truth in this novel comes from its central character, a woman in her thirties named Jen. She explores the meaning of her life as defined by her artistic aspirations, her practical career and her friendships. How do we respond to the events that we experience and to the choices of the people around us?
“Well, nobody is responsible for her own life, not entirely. You can imagine that you are, but then a truck comes out of nowhere and mows you down!” (p.122)
- Yip, Mingmei. Petals from the Sky (2010)