Monday, August 20, 2012

[reading books that take you out of your comfort zone]

There will be another book review in the next few days; I have less than 200 pages left in Gone with the Wind. Excellent book, by the way.

But I wanted to write a little bit about how and why I choose certain books to read. Maybe not how so much, because it seems to me that it always ends up being more of a "random chance" type of thing than anything systematic. But why I read certain books is important, at least to me.

As all of you know (I hope), I am a Christian. Jesus Christ is the center of my life and I strive to make that obvious daily. Granted, this isn't possible, since no one (and I repeat, no one) is perfect, but because of Jesus, my sins have been and always will be forgiven. But this isn't a post to talk specifically about my faith.

Many Christians I have known in my lifetime will only read the Holy Bible and specifically Christian books, both fiction and non-fiction. Think Francine Rivers or Tim LaHaye or anyone like that.While this isn't necessarily a problem, I believe that we as Christians should not try to keep our world too holy. First of all, you run the risk of becoming arrogant and thinking you're better than everyone who doesn't only read Christian authors. Believe me, I've seen it and been looked down upon for it.

Second, there are "Christian" authors in name only who take the "I lived a bad life and now I'm converting" approach to writing and cram everything illicit and sinful into their novels and then give some miraculous conversion near the end. I've even read a few supposedly Christian books that seemed to think that because the couple was married it was okay to describe their sexual intimacy. In detail. Uh, no. Please don't. Not that I haven't read other books that aren't labeled as inspirational fiction that have sex scenes, but I usually try to skip those parts and I honestly don't want to be reading about sex in a book that I thought was going to be cleaner because it's Christian. Okay. I hope that makes sense.

Third, there are far too many Christian authors who just really can't write any better than most YA authors can. Poor quality writing is so annoyingly prominent today. It's probably partly do to the fact that it's super easy to get certain kids of books published, but still. In these inspirational fiction books I think the only requirement is that it's overly spiritual and inspirational. If you don't know how to make your plot and your characters something other than one-dimensional, then just stop writing. Now.


I'm not saying there aren't good Christian authors out there. I'm not even saying that Francine Rivers and Tim LaHaye are bad writers. (Though I do actually think Tim LaHaye can't really write.) But there are far too many superficial stories with poor writing that are published under Christian labels. And oh so many of them have terrible theology because I'm sure the writers aren't all that trained in certain aspects of the Christian faith.

My point is this: read other books. Even if you never read a contemporary novel, maybe check out the classics. Try Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, or something by Charles Dickens. Try some of the medieval legends about King Arthur. Try some of the children's classics like Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden. And if you've already read these (good job!), I can easily recommend more.

Honestly, I can recommend some contemporary novels, too. And if you're at the bookstore or the library and there happens to be a modern novel that isn't in the Inspirational Fiction section and you think that you might like it, try it! Seriously. I'm not kidding. If you think that maybe you'd like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, try it. Yes, that book deals with a lot that is in no way Christian, but you can learn something from it.

So, keep reading inspirational fiction. But check out the classics. And certainly don't dismiss all contemporary fiction. Or even fantasy and sci-fi. There's more good than bad in most of them. And remember this -- branching out in your reading habits can most likely make you a better witness for Christ in our woefully fallen world. My main reason for reading contemporary novels is that then I can see how non-believers look at the world and thus I perhaps understand them just a little bit more. My reasons for reading the classics, old novels that aren't necessarily considered classics, and the fantasy/sci-fi genres are pretty much only that they're generally well-written, well-plotted, and I enjoy reading them.


This may not be the best organized post I've ever made, but I wanted to get it out there. Read something out of your comfort zone once in a while. I'm directing this at Christians specifically, but this goes for other readers, too. I used to be one of those people who only read what I knew I liked. But then I began to branch out and read books that I'd never considered before. And you know what? I liked them!

Go to the library or bookstore and pick out a book that you wouldn't normally read. You just might find that it's your new favorite. (Just please, please, please never have anything to do with Fifty Shades of Gray. I haven't read it, nor will I. I hear that it's the poorest quality of writing, and it's too dirty for anyone to be reading...I don't care how popular it is.)

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