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?