Wednesday, July 02, 2008

don't forget fiction

This post on the buildingchurchleaders.com blog was refreshing: Fiction for Formation.

The author briefly laments of the apparent dearth of fiction literature in the average pastor's book-diet, and then proceeds to recommend of few 'must-reads'. His recommendations include two works by the American Jew Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev and The Chosen, Japanese Catholic Shushaku Endo's Silence, and, the surprise pick, to me at least, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray
I'd never heard of Endo or Potok before this list; Gray I was familiar with, but it is surprisingly the only 'acknowledged classic' (whatever exactly that means) in the four. I guess a name like Walker Percy or Flannery O'Connor would have come as less of a surprise to round out the group than the irreligious Wilde--not that I'm disappointed.

I've long agreed with the blogger's encouragement of fiction reading; I think his claim that "good fiction (an entirely subjective category, I admit) can help a minister better understand the people to whom he or she is ministering" is absolutely true. Good fiction can also help you better understand yourself.

While these aren't books that I suppose 'everyone ought to read', they've certainly proved themselves illuminating and edifying to me; if I were going to recommend a few works of fiction, these three (or four) are the first things that come to mind:

The Screwtape Letters. I've read quite a bit of Lewis--much, much more than of any other author--and this may be his best work. The observations that Screwtape makes of humanity are astounding at times. He forces us to redefine temptation and sin as he illustrates for all of the real 'patients' of the world (no doubt a frustrating discovery for Screwtape, once he knew his letters to have been published) just how deep our self-serving agendas run and how stealthily they masquerade themselves.

Descent into Hell, by Charles Williams. I tried to review this novel on wardrobe after I finished it, but it really well defies description. Much of the action in the story is... ontological. Williams shows you what man becomes as he gives himself to himself and has he descends right out of existence into Hell. 
This is also a terribly difficult book to read; I did so only poorly and with much-appreciated tutelage from a seasoned Williams-reader. Another novel of his, All Hallows' Eve is much easier (though not easy), and also shows a great deal about reality and the unreality of sin. 

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. This novel will show you what we worship, and it's imagery is absolutely terrifying. Besides that, the story is just great fun and the allusions, while blatant, are delightful--especially if you're the sort of nerd that I am (i.e., a religious studies major who grew up reading Thor comics).




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These are only the first few books that come to mind, and there are innumerable great reads out there. Milton, Shakespeare, Boethius (if the Consolatio could really be called fiction), and so many others are out there, just waiting for us to take the time and learn from them. 

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