Much to my chagrin now, I remember once in high school doing a book report on Shadows of the Empire, a novel expanding (fairly well, I might add) on the stories laid out in George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy. Heavy stuff, all those lightsabers and Bothan spies. Sometime later in my high school career – my junior year, in fact – I started dramatically pairing down the number of Star Wars novels I read and began branching out in my choice of reading material. This shift in my reading habits occurred in large part to Carol Kellogg’s English Lit class, in which we read lots of (what I imagine are) standards of most high school curricula. We read Beowulf, Macbeth, Lord of the Flies, Gulliver’s Travels, Jane Eyre. But I remember most vividly reading Alan Paton’s stirring account of South Africa on the brink of apartheid Cry, the Beloved Country. This novel is not an easy read; like many other things that are not easy, once you’re finished, you’ll find yourself better for it. Cry, the Beloved Country is the story of a simple Anglican country priest who journeys to Johannesburg to find his son, who has been arrested for murder.
Cry, the Beloved Country remains one of the most influential books I’ve read in part because of its powerful message about race, sin, family, forgiveness, reconciliation, in part because of Paton’s simple and beautiful prose, but also in part, because reading it under Mrs. Kellogg’s tutelage taught me how to read books as literature, for which I’m very grateful.