Church Stories

, Church StoriesSummer Reading
June 8, 2018

Summer Reading

Written by: Julia Smolucha

By Jo Forrest

On a transcontinental flight somewhere over Canada, my stomach soured.  I had taken Ron Chernow’s Grant on vacation, thinking I would tackle this behemoth on the long flights and layovers.  By page 150, Chernow had painted a sympathetic portrait of Ulysses S. Grant, but also one that showed a man of abject failure in business and whose addiction stained every relationship.  Honestly, had I not had such a spacious amount of time and no alternative, I might not have finished and would have missed a laudable biography.

It is a page-turner in two respects—some episodes in Grant’s life during the Mexican War and while stationed in west coast forts became visceral realities under Chernow’s pen.  On the other hand, I’ve lost interest in the intricacies of Civil War and confess I fast-forwarded through them until I reached the surrender at Appomattox when I was again captivated.  Grant’s moral character shone as he sought to create an encounter to preserve the dignity of the generals and rebel soldiers.  This contrasted with the narratives of Robert E. Lee’s behavior from that point through his death, leading me to understand Lee deserved none of the respect I had been taught in high school.

Post Civil War reconstruction should be required reading—for everyone.  How could I have been so naïve about the brutality and ongoing slaughter of people? At what point do you admit states whose residents had previously fought to leave and still want to rebel!

The tone and tenor of this biography differ from Hamilton such I don’t imagine a rap will emerge on Broadway.  If anything, a dark opera?  On my next trip to NYC, I plan to visit Grant’s Tomb, a fitting homage to this patriot.


For anyone who has fallen in love with the charm and history of Quebec City or appreciated Death Come for the Archbishop, please pick up Willa Cather’s Shadows on the Rock. Published 1931, this modest novel burrows into the home and lives of an apothecary, Euclide Auclair, and his daughter, Cecile, who have ventured across the Atlantic to settle a New France in the 17th century in the service of Count Frontenac.  We can sense what colonial life must have been like in a place that was cut off from the mother country between October and June of every year with the St. Lawrence frozen shut. Amid such hardship, people managed to draw meaning and beauty, and they survived to create the world we know today.  My knowledge of French is limited to ordering off a menu, but I was able to muddle through the paragraphs written only in French and offered without translation.  After reading, or while reading, may I suggest an escape to Quebec City for the weekend—it is less than two hours and you will feel a world away.


I read Richard Ford’s Between Them: Remembering My Parents in one sitting.  This is a slim memoir, but you may want to read it twice to savor Ford’s craft as he remembers his parents and their lives. Edna was a feisty, pretty Catholic-school girl with a difficult past; and Parker, a sweet-natured, soft-spoken traveling salesman—were rural Arkansans born at the turn of the twentieth century. Ford writes lovingly of his parents in a moving, contemplation on lives lived and loved, on mortality and togetherness. He is clear sighted towards his parents, honoring them in the best way.

Here is a brief excerpt: “Death starts a long time ahead of when it arrives.  Even in death’s very self there is life to be lived out.”  Through remembering his parents and their lives together, he has a way of answering the question “what is the meaning of life?”


Lastly, in my long commutes, I have become addicted to the podcast Second City Works. I imagine some of you may know Kelly Leonard, who grew up in the neighborhood and has been at Second City for 20+ years.  I was first lulled into listening when Leonard invited the Reverend Dr. Samuel Wells, vicar at St. Martin-in-the-Fields and author of Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics in one of the very first podcasts.  I’ve been a fan of Wells’ writings and sermons since divinity school.

Leonard is a driving force from Second City and their relationship with the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business Center for Decision Research in exploring evidence-based insights of how improv can enhance communication and collaboration.  I get the best of both worlds…new ideas and dipping back into my corporate life. My work in ministry has also been fed through the episodes of caring for those with dementia or autism through the skills of improv’s “yes and.”

Leonard interviews leading authors, scholars, business leaders, and creative thinkers.  It has been my brain candy and inspiration for the past few years.  As I paged through their archives while drafting this blog, I plan to listen again to many of the episodes.  Enjoy.

What is feeding your mind and soul?  I’d be interested in hearing.

Happy Summer, Jo