One of the things I’ve really come to love as I’ve re-embraced fiction has been its power: good fiction is disarming. It allows you to enter into a world either very similar to our own or completely unlike it, and experience the mundane and the marvellous in ways you may not have imagined previously. It allows us to explore the nature of humanity in ways that you can’t as effectively through non-fiction. Often, by the time you’re done reading a really good fiction book, you’re surprised by how much you have to consider.
And yet it seems like so few Christians (at least in the circles I run in) read really good fiction.[Worse, it seems like even fewer Christian authors write really good fiction (as evidenced by the plethora of Amish romance novels available at your local Christian bookstore). But that’s an issue for another time.] I’d like to see that change (as would Justin Taylor, clearly). So, here’s a look at five fiction books Christians should consider reading. I do not promise profound picks—in fact, there’s a high degree of moral ambiguity represented in each—but I trust you’ll find them intriguing.
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. But what got me in this book in particular (aside from it being so ridiculously quotable), is how much I identified with its characters, especially as an angsty 20-something music snob. I knew the guys at Rob’s record store. Actually, I was one of them—socially awkward and pretentious in my musical taste. (How is it that I ever got married?) Hornby’s greatest skill—giving us characters who read as real people, as opposed to ideas presented as people, if you follow—is on full display in this book, and why he is among my favorite modern authors.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Having read a few of his books, this remains my favorites (Wonder Boys is a close second). I grew up adoring comic books. I actually desperately wanted to work in the comic industry in my teens (and even in my 20s; don’t judge). Kavalier and Clay follows Jewish cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Klayman who find fame with their creation The Escapist in the golden age of comics (the late 1930s to early 1950s). This book deals with some pretty powerful themes—among them , the cost of fame, racism, sexual identity, and family—but refuses to sacrifice good storytelling for the sake of making a statement.
The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis. Is this a “safe” pick? Absolutely. Anything by C.S. Lewis tends to be in Christian circles since he’s one of us. But this one is different than the other books in the Narnia series (all of which I enjoyed). While it is not unceasingly grim, and, indeed, ends on the highest of notes, there is a weight to it that is lacking in some of the earlier volumes. One of my favorite elements? The ape who insists he’s a man (see why at the link).
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. I picked up this book randomly during my last year of high school. I can’t remember why exactly, though it may have been for an independent study project. After reading it (and then reading it again. And again. And…), I think I finally wore out my copy. It’s the richness of the characters that makes Great Expectations so compelling. As Dickens tells the tale of a lower-class boy who desires to become a gentleman, he gives us far more complicated and conflicted men and women than you find in any of his other works.
Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams. Few authors can blend the mundane with the absurd as masterfully as Adams. Here’s one of my favorite passages:
The bathroom was not large.
The walls were panelled in old oak linenfold which, given the age and nature of the building, was quite probably priceless, but otherwise the fittings were stark and institutional.
There was old, scuffed, black-and-white checked linoleum on the floor, a small basic bath, well cleaned but with very elderly stains and chips in the enamel, and also a small basic basin with a toothbrush and toothpaste next to the taps. Screwed into the probably priceless panelling above the basin was a tin mirror-fronted bathroom cabinet. It looked as if it had been repainted many times, and the mirror was stained round the edges with condensation. The lavatory had an old-fashioned cast-iron chain-pull cistern. There was an old cream-painted wooden cupboard standing in the corner, with an old brown bentwood chair next to it, on which lay some neatly folded but threadbare small towels. There was also a large horse in the room, taking up most of it. (69)
You could really choose any of his books and you’d do well; but I’ve long had a fondness for Dirk Gently (which I also happen to be re-reading at the time of this writing).
Those are a few fiction books I’d recommend checking out. What are some of your favorites?