Good stories well told

I love to read. While I am an avid reader of books that teach me something, I also enjoy the pleasure of a good story well told. In other words, I like fiction, really good fiction. I feel as if I must draw that distinction because, let’s be honest, there is some really bad fiction out there and I’ve finally come to the conclusion that I haven’t the time or the patience for it.

Because I am a fan of (good) fiction, I found this post by Russell Moore on “Why Christians Should Read Fiction” to be encouraging (and, yeah, a little bit validating). I know I linked to it last week but it’s worth revisiting. I particularly liked his statement “Fiction helps the Christian to learn to speak in ways that can navigate between the boring abstract and the irrelevant mundane. It also enables you to learn insights about human nature.” He goes on to say

[G]ood fiction isn’t a “waste of time” for the same reason good music and good art aren’t wastes of time. They are rooted in an endlessly creative God who has chosen to be imaged by human beings who create. Culture isn’t irrelevant. It’s part of what God commanded us to do in the beginning, and that he declares to be good. When you enjoy truth and beauty, when you are blessed by gifts God has given to a human being, you are enjoying a universe that, though fallen, God delights in as “very good.”

Dr. Moore’s enthusiasm for good fiction reminds me of Tony Reinke’s summary of the benefits of fictional literature in his book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books. He lists four ways Christians can profit from good fiction:

Fictional literature can help us explore abstract human experiences.
Fictional literature can deepen our appreciation for concrete human experience.
Fictional literature expands our range of experiences.
Fictional literature provides beauty and creativity to be enjoyed.

All that and beautiful prose and you have the recipe for the best kind of story. While there is admittedly some element of personal opinion in any list of preferences, I, like many others with great affection for good fiction, have my favorite stories from among the good stories. From time to time friends will ask me for recommendations. Though not an exhaustive list (you don’t have all day and neither do I) here are some of the titles I am quick to suggest.

The Book Thief: The story of a foster girl in World War II Poland, this book is narrated by Death who is at turns grim and darkly humorous.

Peace Like a River: A boy’s search for his brother who has been charged with murder evokes not only the legends of the Old West but does so with the sort of lyrical prose that leaves the reader breathless.

Home: A Novel: I loved Gilead as well, the companion novel to Home, and also recommend it, but I think I like this book even better, this the story of prodigals and home and homecomings and family and grace all wrought together with beautiful language.

Hannah Coulter: I cried at the end of this novel. And, if that isn’t recommendation enough, consider this from the opening pages: “This is the story of my life, that while I lived it weighed upon me and pressed against me and filled all my senses to overflowing and now is like a dream dreamed…. This is my story, my giving of thanks.”

Of course I could go on and on and on and surely once I publish this post I will think of a dozen more titles I could have included, novels like I Capture the Castle, a charming novel about sisters and an old crumbling castle, or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand which is also charming and very British. Or The Road which is not charming but most definitely unforgettable. I might include a classic or two, Bleak House or Rebecca or Jane Eyre, all favorites I enjoy and love.

I also love mysteries, very much so, so much so that I can’t think of just one to add to my recommended list. British detective stories are a perennial favorite, P.D. James’ Adam Dagliesh novels in particular.

And last but certainly not least, my favorite fiction of all time: dear Jane’s Pride and Prejudice. All Austen novels surely qualify for most favored status but Pride and Prejudice surpasses them all, followed by Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion as my next Austen favorites.

Do you enjoy fiction? Would you agree with Moore’s and Reinke’s lists of benefits above? What are some of your fiction recommendations?

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Author: Lisa Spence

Wife, mother, Bible teacher, bibliophile, occasional blogger

21 thoughts on “Good stories well told”

  1. I know you and I felt different about McCarthy’s The Road, but I really loved it. I also like Thomas Hardy’s novels, although I know they’re not everyone’s favourite. I love Daphne DuMarier’s Rebecca very much, too. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte is a good one, too. One of my favourites is Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.

  2. Loved Peace Like a River and Home (and Gilead)! I’ve heard good things about Hannah Coulter, but haven’t read it yet… maybe I need to put it on my summer book list.

  3. I love fiction but don’t read as much as I used to. Some favs are To Kill a Mockingbird, anything by Austen, Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, Vanity Fair by Thackery, The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, My Antonia by Willa Cather, & Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. I love children’s fiction and like to revisit Pooh, Wind in the Willows, the Little House books, Phantom Tollbooth, Ballet Shoes, etc.

    1. I’ve read “Wives and Daughters” but I don’t remember much else. Same thing with Collins’ “Woman in White.” I’m sure that’s a reflection of my own lack of being able to remember and not on the book itself. 🙂

  4. I too love Lord Peter! I haven’t read Vanity Fair but would like to. And, yes, To Kill a Mockingbird–definitely one I’m now wishing I’d added to my list. 🙂

    1. That’s a great question, Suzanne, and I fear my answer may be slightly unsatisfactory. I really think it depends on the personal conviction of the reader. For me I have no patience for books that employ bad language in a salacious or gratuitous. To me, the use of bad language represents lazy writing! That being said, I have read and enjoyed novels with what could be considered inappropriate or even offensive content but yet it worked because it either wasn’t excessive or contributed to the story the author wanted to tell.

      So, that’s my non-answer. 🙂 I will say that reading negative reviews (amazon, goodreads, etc) often tell me more about a book and its content and what I may want to avoid therein than the good reviews.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Okay, Lisa, I need your help. My soon-to-be-14-yr-old daughter loves fiction. Would you recommend any of these for her? I don’t mind if there are some disturbing scenes, as long as they demonstrate the proper context of good and evil, and they are not overly sexual, as to “awaken” desire in my teenager.

    1. That’s a tough one! I’ll think on it and email you. I will say that “The Book Thief” is a YA title and would probably fit the bill (plus, have I mentioned it’s wonderful?). Most of my favorites are from the literary genre so if she prefers fiction that is more plot driven then she may not like “Hannah Coulter,” for example.

    2. Aimee, I’m currently listening to “I, Coriander”, which is a YA title. I really like it, so far. And my daughter has read a couple of books by Joan Bauer. We haven’t read “Fever 1793” yet, but it’s on my list.

      Lisa, I’d be interested in your list, too. And I think you would like “I, Coriander” if you haven’t read it.

      1. Thanks for the recommendation! I will definitely look for it. And, I really didn’t have many specific recommendations in my email to Aimee. I know titles my boys enjoyed but it’s a little different for girls I think (?). I do recommend Carrie’s blog ( http://www.readingtoknow.com ) for a wealth of book recommendations for all ages from a Christian worldview.

  6. Love my internet friendies, thank you guys. Wish you were closer so you could come to my book review club and share your reads over coffee and high caloric goodies!

  7. I picked up an “Anne of Green Gables” trilogy, not sure that I’d enjoy reading such a simple story. Surprise! Lucy Maud Montgomery is such a wonderful writer, I plan to finish the trilogy. Maybe it’s because I’m old, but I love her way with words, her interesting characters, and the sweet stories she tells.

    1. I’m a big fan of Anne! Definitely books I’d put on a favorites list! See, I told y’all I’d think of a dozen or more titles I could have (should have) added to my list…

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