I missed blogging on Monday as I had a rare and true day off, where nothing was expected of me, and it was so much more important to make the most of that, than to sit down and a computer like I do every work day of my life.
Today I was going to write about the depth and whimsy of “On The Jericho Road”, memories of switching the high and low parts, Merle Haggard, Donald S. McCrossan and the intersection of popular music and hymns, but I think that’s the most I’m going to write about it today.
Instead, I would like to talk about some thoughts that came on that lovely day off as I was wrapped in some quilts with a cup of tea, reading. My husband bought me the “Time Quintet” of Madeleine L’Engle books for Christmas. I adore L’Engle. I love her mannered way of writing and her big concepts and thoughts in children’s books. Her book “Walking on Water; Reflections of Faith and Art” is a must read in my view. I did not realize she was so prolific until late in my 20’s, and for some time have wished to read all her books starting with the ones I feel in love with as a child.
I never considered her to be as blatant as Lewis in her theological bent, although she really is. She just seems to be less pleased with herself about it. Also, her non-fiction is greatly underrated. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.
See, when I was a kid, I used to go to the little library in our church and borrow books. There was quite a collection of fiction. Some of them were quite good (Brock and Bodie Thoene) and some of them were abysmal (Janette Oke), but all of them relentlessly moralistic in a way that often literally interrupted the story. As much as I loved reading Frank Peretti, the Christy Miller Series, and other perfectly good, wholesome and sometimes well written tomes… I couldn’t tell you what most of them were about.
My mind already had a standard in it for what was Interesting. Karana on her lonely island eating abalone and taming wolves. Indians in cupboards. Bridges and wardrobes to other worlds, and the woods between them. There was Judy Blume to give me a roadmap of how to survive school and siblings. There was Dickens and Dumas to show me how the world could be cruel or kind and that it was only my heart that I could use as influence. All of these stories had messages that continue to teach me to this day.
It was bewildering to me when I started to meet fellow homeschooled children who were only allowed to read Christian fiction, and even those books were discouraged because they were fiction. Although Christian marketed non-fiction was better, it needed a critical mind. Elizabeth Elliot was a woman of some wisdom and an amazing life story, and yet none of us should have taken her “Passion and Purity” without serious questioning. Anyway, the idea of someone censoring book reading was so foreign to me. I don’t think anyone had ever told me “don’t read that”, save for Sweet Valley High books as they were vapid… and I read those and tired of them quickly. The library was a safe place for me. I think I was 10 when I read George Harrison’s autobiography and Gone With The Wind, in between The Babysitter’s Club. I could understand not watching TV, I had no context for a world where one could not read whatever one chose.
When I got to boarding school, some well meaning person had donated entire series of what can only be described as “Christian Romance Novels”. We read the backs out loud by the fire when we were bored, streaming tears at the copy that tried to convey sexiness but not too much, and promise some sort of redemptive story line. Nothing was funnier, and yet nothing was more deeply embarrassing to me. It was the end of the ’90s and the novelty of Christianity as a genre was wearing off as it was shown to be shallow marketing and not lasting in any classical sense.
I feel that I should say that there are vapid, moralistic and shallow books that are not marketed at the Christian sector. I feel like someone would comment on that right away, or take that to be the bent of my post. Rather, understand that as a person of faith, I weirdly feel responsible for the books that shout “I am a piece of Christian Fiction!” I feel that people will look at my faith from that angle and think it is boring and one note. So there is something to reading L’Engle and feeling… oh there you are. There is something to reading fiction where you know the author’s heart beats similarly to your own, even if she hasn’t spelled it out.
As we continually talk about Art, the subject of quality will always come up, the subject of depth and of intent. I thought for years that the reason that I could not tell you what a single Janette Oke novel was about was being my mind wanted something more lurid because I am a fallen wicked person… but that can’t be it.
I haven’t read Island of the Blue Dolphins since I was 8, and yet I can probably tell you all of the plot points. I didn’t have to google “Karana” (and I’m hoping that I got that name right). It was a transformative piece of literature in my life that has informed my person. I have a feeling the author was just telling a story, based on a true story incidentally, but with that truth that cold facts can never convey. I think where “Christian Lit” goes wrong is that most that I’ve read is trying to convey a message instead of telling a story. The story will convey the message that is in your heart if you let it, I think. I think Dumas knew that.
That is the challenge, isn’t it? To write what you need to write instead of what you are supposed to write. May I learn how.