Get Help Grappling with Great Works
I am a long and ardent admirer, and Sigrid Undset and her works. Unable to access many of her works, including newly reissued books, through our library or Link+, a statewide interlibrary loan, I turned to Zip Books. Through the Stanislaus County Library, this program seeks to provide books to readers not yet available in their library by ordering them from Amazon through a grant. To my surprise, in response to my questioning, the staff member behind the program in our country said books by Undset are “only held by university libraries and wouldn’t circulate in a public library.”
Indeed, most classics are filed under the teen section as students read them in high school. Unfortunately, there is little expectation that readers in this more rural setting will pick up the likes of Undset, Tolstoy, Dante or Steinbeck. And it’s a shame.
Kristin Lavransdatter, the latest Trinity Forum Readers
But it’s also true that these works can feel very long and intimidating. So it was with interest that I reached out to The Trinity Forum to review their recent publication, Kristin Lavransdatter, with an introduction of Jessica Hooten Wilson.
The compact booklet, which I learned is one of their quarterly “readers,” features an introduction by Jessica Hooten Wilson, excerpts from the approximately 1000-page, three-volume novel, and discussion questions.
And it’s Good!
The Trinity Forum boasts of its experts who write these introductions. My familiarity with this novel made it immediately apparent that Hooten Wilson knows this work inside and out. Hooten Wilson writes that Kristin “reveals to us what is timeless and permanent about being human.” The introduction also contained an excellent biographical sketch of the author’s life, drawing the connections between the author’s experiences and the titular character’s life. The analysis is fantastic. The booklet presents excerpts from the three volumes of Kristin Lavransdatter, with comments between excerpts that tie them all together, sharing the authentic “flavor” of the novel. The brilliance of Undset’s writing comes across quickly, and the notes link us to the very best parts of Kristen.
By giving such a well-crafted taste of a long work, this product could really help those of us outside the university setting approach these classics with confidence. Looking back after reading this, I realized I already owned another booklet by the Trinity Forum on Gerard Manley Hopkins with an introduction by Dana Gioia. Hopkins’s poetry was lauded but confusing to me. The Reader helped me understand how to read and appreciate this classic poet.
While Kristin does contain “spoilers,” for works of great depth and great length, having a sense of the narrative structure beforehand may actually help first-time readers enter in and see its depth.
The booklet ends with well-crafted discussion questions that could be used in a book club or even as essay prompts for high school and college students.
About the Trinity Forum
According to its website, The Trinity Forum seeks to bring the public the “best of classic literature and letters, introduced by today’s experts, and tailored for individual reflection and group discussion.” They do this through in-person events held in Washington D.C. five or six times a year, twice monthly online Zoom meetings, and quarterly Readers like this introduction to Kristin Lavransdatter that are mailed to members or can be purchased a la carte from their website. Those Readers follow the same format with expert introductions, excerpts or the complete work in the case of short stories and discussion questions. I’ve already put their booklet on T.S. Eliot in my cart to help me navigate “The Four Quartets” this year.
A membership with The Trinity Forum begins at $100/year. Members receive daily digest emails highlighting thoughtful content in books, articles and podcasts; quarterly Readers in the mail; and discounts on in-person events.
The Trinity Forum’s Founding and Vision
The Trinity Forum began in 1991 by Os Guinness and Alonzo McDonald to bring government and business leaders together to explore big ideas and connect Christian thought with other areas of life. According to Vice President Tom Walsh, the mission and focus of The Trinity Forum have evolved, particularly under the leadership of Cherie Harder. With the COVID-19 shutdowns, like many organizations, The Trinity Forum shifted its work online through Zoom. From those Washington D.C. and Nashville meetings that gathered 300-500 attendees, The Trinity Forum now sees 2000 registrants from all across the globe in its regular meetings. While in-person events charge a modest sum of $15 for members and $25 for non-members, online events are free. “We have a mission mindset about this access to things that can help people live wisely and well,” Walsh said.
Those meetings will focus on particular readings or invite presenters to dig deep into a topic, like the recent event discussing technology with author Andy Crouch and social psychologist Jonathan Haidt.
But for those of us beside the other shining sea, The Trinity Forum is exploring how to serve its recently widened audience best. The booklets can be used to form local reading groups or individually. Walsh said the Forum recognizes the challenges to people’s schedules to attend live Zoom events offered at 10:30 PT and 1:30 ET and is looking into how to give people perpetual access to the recordings.
I think we’re on to something here
As a work-from-home housewife in a small town, access to these materials is a boon for creativity, maintaining the intellectual life, and finding delight that transcends the mundane day-to-day while also enlivening what I have to offer as a mother and educator of my children. I highly recommend their work, particularly these Trinity Forum Readers, to look deeper into life’s big questions beyond the algorithms and passing media passions that surround us.