Friday, June 27, 2008

Dads Doing Their Best

Before I sat down to write about nonfiction on Father's Day, I spent some time thinking about the books I had loved as a girl. Many of them (To Kill a Mockingbird not included) had either no father or an absentee father (Little Women, Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, A Little Princess, to name a few).From there, I began thinking about books I've read recently with characters who are either exceptional fathers or at least trying their hardest. The following are four books I've enjoyed greatly. In fact, I reread two of them. In each of them, there is a father who has earned my admiration and remained in my thoughts. I would strongly recommend all of these books for high school students. Actually, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was on my sister's required summer reading list a few years back. (Speaking of my sister Ana, she graduated from high school on Tuesday night and we're all quite proud of her!)

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I firmly believe that the word haunting is obscenely overused to describe books and music, but is justified here. The Road tells a tale of a father trying to get his son to safety in a post apocalyptic world. He has to protect the boy from roving cannibal armies, starving, poison, freezing, and despair. It blends a raw fight for survival with acts of heartbreaking tenderness.

  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. This book is a slow read in that you will want to reread lines, mark meaningful passages, and turn down page corners to go back to later. Preacher John Amos has lived most of his life in the small town of Gilead, Iowa. He becomes a father late in life, knowing he will not likely live to see his son into adulthood. Gilead contains what he wants to teach that son. It makes the reader care about that particular father and son and think about fathers and sons in general.

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is by turns funny and bleak, inspiring and frustrating. Fifteen year old autistic savant Christopher Boone, mathematical genius and social misfit, sets out to solve the mystery of his neighbor's dog which has been killed by a pitchfork. Christopher has extreme behavioral issues including a limited emotional range and an aversion to being touched. You can imagine the challenges his father faces. Haddon does a fantastic job revealing the father's tenderness towards his son as well as his disappointment.

  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini tells the story of Amir, the privileged son of a wealthy businessman in Afghanistan and Hassan, the son of a servant in Amir's home. It also tells the story of Afghanistan in the early 1970s to the Taliban rule of the 1990s. Amir and his father eventually emigrate to the United States but that doesn't result in an easy, happy ending. The geopolitical story of The Kite Runner is very sad, as is the personal story of guilt and the burdens of parenthood and responsibility.

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