Saturday, May 03, 2008

Why I Read

Amy Welborn linked her readers to a discussion titled "What Happened to Catholic Popular Fiction" I tried to comment there but wasn't able to figure out what question I needed to answer in order to get my comment posted. Maybe that's a reflection on my intelligence (or lack thereof). Some of the commentors were writers and one of the things they panned was Christian fiction. They mentioned great fiction by writers like Graham Greene and Flannery O'Connor. They talked about themes like sacramentality, forgiveness, redemption, repentance etc. and how good novelists bring forth their themes without explicitly stating them as is done in Christian fiction. In response, I'm posting here about why I read, and what I'm seeking in a book.

I read for entertainment. I do not read to stretch my intellectual horizons, to experience deep catharsis or to solve the problems of the world. I do not generally read as a form of prayer, and if I do, I choose devotional books, not novels. I read things during my workday that make me think, that make me learn about a myriad of topics such that I know a little bit about a lot of topics (I work for a lawfirm) but on my time, I want to relax. I read quickly and want a book I can finish in just a few hours. I want a happy ending. In my opinion, the trouble with Romeo and Juliet is that they died, they didn't live happily ever after. That's not a sophisticated viewpoint, but it is mine, and judging by what I see on sale at the average bookstore, it isn't an uncommon view, except, perhaps, among English teachers.

I'm trying to think if "happily ever after" was part of any book I was ever assigned to read. My son's class is now reading Tuesdays with Morrie which is about, to quote Epinions, " the meaning of life taught by a man who was dying. The dying man was a former professor and his last lessons were taught to one former student on Tuesday afternoons at his home." Fun stuff, not. When I was his age, we read A Separate Peace, a coming of age novel where one of the main characters dies. Another one we read in school was Death Be Not Proud which was about a teen dying of a brain tumor. My son has had to read A Lesson Before Dying about a man condemned to death for a crime he did not commit and Whirlygig about a boy who drove drunk and killed someone. If these are "good" books, give me "bad" books. When I pick up a trashy romance novel, I know it will leave me smiling, not crying. It isn't going to move my soul or open up some new intellectual horizon, but I don't have to worry about the heroine dying in the last scene.

I'm a Catholic who reads Christian fiction. I know this stuff isn't great literature. I know that no English teacher will ever assign these books to a bunch of high school kids. I know that the overwhelming majority of these books will be long forgotten in not too many years. I also know that I enjoy reading them. They have happy endings, usually. They have characters for whom faith is important and whose life is influenced by their faith. I'd love to read a Catholic version of that, but when I search Amazon for "Catholic fiction" I get books about people struggling with the Church's teachings on sex (and the church generally losing) or seeing visions (not a typical Catholic experience from what I've heard). Why can't I find a novel about someone whose life is changed for the better because of the sacrament of reconciliation? Would a novel about a young couple who struggles with the Church's teachings on contraception -- and comes to accept them--be less "good" than one in which they accept freedom and responsibility and reject the church's teachings? I'd love to read about a handicapped baby who makes his parents take a look at the meaning of life, and who decide that life is precious, even if "imperfect", and to show the Church caring for such people.

Walk into any drugstore and there is a rack of books, most of which are trashy romance novels. Look at what is taking up shelf space at the local mega bookstore. They don't devote rows of space to books about death and dying. Their best sellers don't usually require a college graduate to keep a dictionary handy when reading. If you want to write a book that sells, write one that isn't hard to read, that has a happy ending, makes me feel good when I 'm reading it. Maybe the other kind will get you recognized in literary journals and win you awards so if that's what you want to write, go for it, but don't complain when I don't buy it.


  1. You must let us know if you ever find any of these books!

  2. These are Catholic teen fiction that mine have enjoyed reading:

    Shadow of the Bear
    Black as Night
    Waking Rose
    Midnight Dancers (coming out this summer).
    All by Regina Doman.

  3. Philadelphia Catholic in King James' Court is more of an apologetics book but it's written in a story format.

  4. "Emily's Hope" is an excellent novel, in part about a young married couple's struggle to embrace NFP --- and the fruits it brings in their lives.

  5. It's not Catholic, but Brett Lott's novel "Jewel" is an outstanding story about a family raising a Down Syndrome child to adulthood, and the changes of outlook the experience brings.

  6. I found your blog through the comment you left on the Inside Catholic discussion.

    I've recently published a work of Catholic fiction that you might enjoy. Click the "TYF" Blogger ID above to go to my blog, where you'll find a complete description of the novel. If it looks interesting, I'd be happy to send you a review copy. Drop me a note at the email listed in my Blogger profile.


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