This is the last installment of the 5×5 series, where I’m exploring five of my favorite books in five different genres. If you missed them, check out my posts on fantasy, literature, historical fiction, and nonfiction.
I don’t read contemporary fiction as often as several other genres, but I should. Contemporary fiction deals with real-world problems in a real-world setting, and is a good complement to the fantasy I read so often. So here are five of my favorite contemporary novels, and why you should read them too.
A Week in Winter by Mauve Binchy
If I could live in a book for a year, I would seriously consider this one. Imagine a centuries-old mansion on the coast of Ireland, renovated and turned into a cozy inn. The story follows the inn keeper as she renews her own life by investing in her guests. It’s a quiet story that delves into the thought life of a group of diverse people. The one drawback is that Mauve Binchy died before she finished writing the novel. Even though a ghost writer completed the story, the ending lacks the same rich thoughtfulness as the rest of the book.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
This is another quiet, thoughtful book that explores thought life, particularly as it relates to age, faith, and parenthood. The novel follows an elderly pastor in the midcentury Midwest with a young wife and child. He knows his little boy won’t get to know him as an adult because of their age gap, so he’s writing him a memoir of sorts so his son will understand his father. The novel is honest, raw and thoughtful, and Marilynne Robinson went on to write several other novels of the same story from other perspectives, but this original one is the best.
Decent into Hell by Charles Williams
I first read this book for a high school class, and I hated it—mostly because I couldn’t understand what it was doing. Charles Williams ran in the same circle of Oxford scholars as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, and he put a lot of scholarly depth into his work. I gave it a second read a few years ago, however, and loved it. Through the book, Williams asks questions such as, “What is death?” “What is the relationship between the body and the soul?” and “What does it mean to bear another’s burden?” The answers he suggests are intriguing, especially in fiction form.
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Like Gilead, this book takes place in the Midwest in the 1960s. It’s a story of sacrifice and faith, and follows a young boy as disaster strikes his family. The best aspect of this book is the point of view—the main character watches his father through the eyes of a child, and learns how to have an active and vibrant prayer life by watching his dad. It echoes my own relationship looking up to Christ, and the ending was especially poignant for me at the time I read it, which was right after my grandmother passed away.
The Wedding Bees by Sarah-Kate Lynch
This darling little story is more light-hearted than the others on this list, and is also the only one that contains romance. It follows a wandering young woman who never stays in one place longer than a year, but travels from city to city, selling the honey and wax her hive of bees produces. When she moves to a new city, she has a dramatic impact on the lives around her, and is surprised when they influence her life as well. This novel is warm and charming, much like honey itself.
Thanks for joining me for this 5×5 series! It’s been fun to revisit these books I love.