Like most pastors, I spend a ton of time in sermon preparation. I love it and learn more during those times than at any other. I also spend a fair amount of time reading non-fiction Christian books—on the ministry, on the home, on theological issues, on church history, etc. Not enough, mind you. But time.
For several years now I’ve also enjoyed reading fiction works. In recent weeks, for example, I’ve read Alexandre Dumas’ The Man in the Iron Mask (which was disappointing, not nearly as good as The Count of Monte Cristo), Nathanael Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (which shows how man’s inherent selfishness makes socialism untenable, but also contains some exquisite writing), and Esther Forbes’ Johnny Tremain (because my 8th grader is reading it for school and I want to read what my girls are so we can share the experience). It’s been great for me. I commend the responsible reading of fiction to you. Here are some random thoughts on the reading of fiction. I invite you to respond with a comment, whether with your thoughts on what I’ve said or with recommendations.
- Read old books you should know. In recent years I’ve tried to read books that have had a significant impact on our culture—well known authors, etc. Books I should have read back in the day but didn’t. I’ve included some classics (Les Misérables, now my favorite novel) and some not so classics (Journey to the Center of the Earth and The Scarlet Pimpernell; don’t judge me). I’ve read well known science fiction (Frankenstein, which was more thoughtful than I expected) and some romance (Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey). I’ve read some significant and some simple American works (The Last of the Mohicans, Roughing It, Death of a Salesman, and The Grapes of Wrath). (By the way, I get cheap paperbacks of most of these books, say, at Ollies. I’m guessing many of them would be available for free if I’d get myself a Kindle. Yes?)
- Read new books that are affecting people today. I say this with caution, first because there is so much tripe available, and second because on a few occasions I’ve found myself reading something that I know offended the Holy Spirit. So be careful. But being acquainted with The Shack is probably a good thing. Khaled Hosseini’s novels about Afghanistan are amazing. You might want to know who Greg Mortenson is (though it’s non-fiction). James Bradley’s WWII books are great (again, non-fiction). Read a Grishom novel, if only to see what the attraction is (and honestly, I’m not sure).
- Read to improve your use of language. I love words. I use them constantly, whether I’m talking, writing hymns, or preparing sermons. Reading those who use words well (Twain, Hawthorne, Austen) is good for me, even ministerially. On that note, I enjoy reading novels from my friend Jamie Langston Turner. Her stories are instructional and inspiring, and they’re artistically written. You’ll learn to communicate more thoughtfully and vividly by reading good fiction.
- Read to illustrate. You’ll have a hard time finding a better example of justification (our being treated differently because of our exchanging of spiritual garments with Christ) than Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper. Les Miserables is a pitiful demonstration of human need and of gracelessness. The Journey to the Center of the Earth might help you explain… Well, there are exceptions. (Ugh.) But you get the point.
- Read for fellowship. I enjoyed reading and discussing Hosseini’s books along with my wife. Reading Les Misérables while PJ did or The Count of Monte Cristo while a teen in the church did made for great conversations. Reading Laura Ingles Wilder books and The Chronicles of Narnia aloud with my children was time well spent. Talking about Johnny Tremain with Rebekah has been a small joy. (“How far along are you? Did this surprise you? What did you think about…?”) I’m an incurably social person, and I think it’s more fun to read when you can share the experience.
- Read to relax. It’s a blessing to get involved in a good story. Sure, you need to read widely and not always lightly. I’m sure I err on the side of simplicity. But I’m much more relaxed and fulfilled after curling up with a classic novel than after watching the same story butchered by a Hollywood remake. (Though watching some BBC Masterpiece Theater series almost qualifies as reading. I love those.)
I’m no great reader—not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m too random. I’m too slow. (I wish I could turn off whatever it is that makes me legalistically read every…single…word and muse on the construction of every…single…sentence.) I’m sure I should read more Puritans. There are classic theological works which are unknown to me. I should read more non-fiction. So I’ll work at it. Still, I urge you to mix in some fiction once in a while, and don’t feel like it has to be something difficult. Learn. Think. Get informed. Relax. And rejoice in the common grace that makes it possible.
In fact, as it’s my day off and the house is empty, I think I’ll go take my own advice right now…
Filed under: Book Reviews & Discussions |