The five book (more of a) challenge (than I thought)

It seemed like such a good idea at the time. Read five books in an unfamiliar genre. Expand one’s horizons. Provide even better Reader Advisory service to customers who don’t share one’s reading tastes. Get on Bronwyn’s good side.

Choosing a genre was tricky but after kind and helpful advice from customers and colleagues I settled on Christian Fiction. It’s popular enough to have a booklist but I had never read anything on it.

CovefrBodie Thoene seemed a good author to start with; he’s written lots of books so there are lots to choose from, some of them are about the First and Second World Wars, which I like, and he’s very popular.

I chose In my father’s house, a book about four soldiers returning to the States after serving in World War One. And I’m sorry but I did not like it one little bit, and if it is representative of Christian Fiction the five book challenge is going to be a bit, well, challenging.

I’m reduced to looking for slim volumes (perhaps an Amish romance?) and wondering if Philip Pullman‘s The good man Jesus and the scoundrel Christ might count, even though Pullman would probably be horrified to think anything he wrote could be called Christian Fiction.

Yes it was just one book but the thing about the challenge is I felt compelled to finish it, a compulsion I got rid of some time ago in my ‘normal’ reading, under the pressure of too many books too little time. Now I’m nervous I’ll get stuck reading things I just don’t want to read when there are millions of books I do want to read. I blame Bronwyn.

29 thoughts on “The five book (more of a) challenge (than I thought)

  1. HelenL 18 May 2010 / 8:34 am

    Robyn,

    In that category, I would suggest something like:

    Little Women by Louisa May Alcott, as there is a strong although subdued Christian theme to her writing;

    CS Lewis, of course, with the Chronicles of Narnia or his SciFi books, Perelandra and Out of the Silent Planet (although the Narnia books are a much better read imo); or, decidely Christian, but clever, The Screwtape Letters;

    Lloyd C Douglas’s The Robe and The Big Fisherman–great stories that I read and enjoyed set around (after in the case of The Robe) the life of Christ and the very early Christians;

    Elizabeth George Speare’s The Bronze Bow–Kid’s/YA but another I remember as a great story.

    And just to go a little left field on the Christian theme, try Gillian Bradshaw’s The Beacon at Alexandria–part of the background of this historical novel is the history of the chruch, the divisions between the Nicene and Arians for example, toward the end of the Roman empire when christiamity had become the state religion;

    And what about Evelyn Waugh and Brideshead Revisited–Christianity/religion is a big theme there.

    But I think there’s at least 5 there to widen your field!

    • HelenL 18 May 2010 / 1:12 pm

      I wouldn’t have thought a story had to have a feel good ending to be Christian (what about all thsoe lions then?)

      But just to throw two more names into the ring for Robyn, check out Elizabeth Goudge and Rumer Godden. Am pretty sure there are quite strong Christian themes to much of their work–and certainly don’t recall anything of the saccharine about Godden.

  2. Laraine 18 May 2010 / 9:27 am

    I feel for you, Robyn. I read mostly books for young readers (middle grade to YA) and Christian fiction written for them seems to have only one aim: to hammer home a moral message six feet high. Children’s fiction should be written for only one reason: to entertain them. If anyone wants to write Christian books for children they should be strictly non-fiction.

    I ploughed through The Da Vinci Code (but only because it was given to us for Christmas by misguided friends) and I found it unbelievably awful. It wasn’t just the inexcusable errors Dan Brown made; his writing was plain bad.

    I suggest you try the Pullman book; it also sounds fascinating and at least Pullman is a good writer. Helen has some suggestions that sound interesting.

    Could you please tell us WHY you didn’t like In My Father’s House? I know it’s not always easy to explain why you don’t like something but I’d appreciate it if you could try.

  3. Donna 18 May 2010 / 10:38 am

    I’m with Helen on The Screwtape Letters, I loved them so much I had to buy myself a copy (always a sign of a goodie for a librarian).

  4. Jane 18 May 2010 / 11:48 am

    I always thought that the Bodie Thoene books might be good for someone who enjoys a good saga, What do you think Robyn?

    • robyn 18 May 2010 / 3:00 pm

      My thoughts exactly, I thought it was going to be a bit like Rich Man, Poor Man with no sex. I love a saga -the tatttered paperback on the bach boookshelf – James Michener, James Clavell. But no!

  5. genevieve 18 May 2010 / 12:04 pm

    I’m sure you’ve already read it, Robyn. But The Pilgrim’s Progress alongside Little Women would be a very nice double.
    PP is really allegory rather than fiction, so, an older mode – however Bunyan’s masterpiece was remarkable for the types rising out of the allegory and turning into characters before your eyes. It’s a great read, there are some lovely lines in it. (‘Prudence sat sneaking among them…’heh.)And it does fill out the quotations in the Alcott rather well.
    Brian Moore’s books often have Catholic characters and interests too and are very well written indeed. Catholics, very slim, is a ripper – about an abbott in a remote community who is losing his faith.

    • genevieve 18 May 2010 / 12:04 pm

      and I think the Pullman is a great choice, myself.

      • bronnypop 18 May 2010 / 2:08 pm

        I’m not saying that the Pullman is a bad read, or even a bad choice – what I AM saying is that people who come into the library asking for ‘Christian fiction’ are not looking for books written by an avowed and very focused atheist, in much the same way that people who ask for ‘chick-lit’ aren’t looking for Anita Brookner.

  6. shug 18 May 2010 / 12:20 pm

    I can highly recommend Quarantine / Jim Crace.
    A plausible origin of the christian myth.

    • Joyce 18 May 2010 / 2:43 pm

      I love Jim Crace, Being Dead is one of my favourite books ever,ever,EVER. Other people I’ve recommended it to have been less enthusiastic! I’ve got Jim’s latest title, All that follows at home to read. It is set in 2024, so he is obviously not a man feart to span millennia.

  7. Michael A 18 May 2010 / 12:38 pm

    Can highly recommend Graham Greene’s “The Power and the Glory” as a stunning work of fiction regardless of genre, but with much to say about Catholicism.

  8. bronnypop 18 May 2010 / 12:45 pm

    Thought I’d better wade in here, seeing as it’s all my fault anyway! Great suggestions from everyone, but I do have to point out that although the ‘Christian fiction’ genre sounds like it is anything to do with religion (believing it or not), it actually is a label referring to books with a particular focus on people living ‘Christian lives’, usually in a saga-y or historical fiction-y way, and with a feel-good or belief-affirming ending. This knocks out The da Vinci Code, anything by Pullman, and Brideshead, at the very least. Sorry!

    • shug 18 May 2010 / 4:24 pm

      Can’t argue with that, Bronny, but maybe Robyn would like to read something which other people regard as well written but is still vaguely christian-y.

      • Jane 20 May 2010 / 9:49 am

        Yep, I would have thought so. Christian fiction is a genre, just like horror , crime etc. There is a certain type of book that goes into this genre and it is not C S Lewis or Graham Greene. I wonder when Robyn started this oddessy what she was looking for?

  9. Roberta Smith 18 May 2010 / 1:45 pm

    You’ve probably already read Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. It is so beautifully written that the fact that it is about Christian Lives kind of bleeps under the radar – comes at you subliminally as it were.

  10. Donna 18 May 2010 / 4:34 pm

    “The power and the glory” – yes yes yes.
    And while we are branching into classics territory, King Jesus by Robert Graves is fascinating.

    As ye olde Wikipedia puts it “The novel treats Jesus not as the son of God, but rather as a philosopher with a legitimate claim to the Judaean throne through Herod the Great, as well as the Davidic monarchy; and treats numerous Biblical stories in an unorthodox manner”.

    • HelenL 18 May 2010 / 4:49 pm

      Oooh, I love Robert Graves but I’ve never heard of ‘King Jesus’. Does the library have it?

  11. Donna 18 May 2010 / 4:38 pm

    But for your barnstorming Christian read, how about the popular series Left Behind.

    Admittedly I’ve only read the first book, but it’s about the Rapture and is clearly written to ‘inspire’:

    “When the trumpet sounds, where will you be? Passengers in an airborne Boeing 747 find out in this riveting novel by Christian speaker Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. Without any warning, passengers mysteriously disappear from their seats. Terror and chaos slowly spread not only through the plane but also worldwide as unusual events continue to unfold. For those who have been left behind, the apocalypse has just begun.”
    Woo hoo!

    • Michael A 19 May 2010 / 11:30 am

      Sounds like “Lost”.

      • Donna 19 May 2010 / 4:08 pm

        It does have a bit of Lost, and a bit of Stephen King.

        But the characters are papery.

  12. James 18 May 2010 / 5:34 pm

    I’ll add “The Book of Fred” by Abby Bardi, about a girl from a religious cult fostered to a dysfunctional family and “The shoes of the fisherman” by Morris West, about an Eastern-bloc pope (written some years before the election of Carol Wotyla), who has to use his influence to avert a world war.

  13. Linda 18 May 2010 / 9:03 pm

    Hi there

    Can i suggest some other christian authours you may enjoy?

    Karen Kingsbury is a firm favourite with many and reduces me to tears often = good range of subjects. Try a stand alone rather than a sereis.Between sundays is good – One Tuesday morning is about the 911 disaster and although its now a series can be read as a standalone.

    Beverly Lewis is good – amaish settings and easy enough to get into.

    Harry Kraus is a new one for me – took me a bit to get into the frist one but enjoying the second one lots. May i have this dance? is his first and covers a lot of ethical and moral issues.

    Jeannete Oke is another one worth checking out – simple, some historical but nice stories

    Another new Chrisitan Authour i stumbled on was quite good – can remember authours name but title was “From a distance” – got it from central i think. set in america after the civil wars was a good strong story line with adventure and mystery thrown in for a good book

    Hope this helps. Im trying to take up the challenge and read outside my comfort zone and have read a couple of books by the authour of pay it forward. Enjoyed chasing windmills and love in the present tense but found Electric God more of a challenge

    • Jane 19 May 2010 / 12:25 pm

      At Last! I am with Brownwyn and Linda. These are the Christian fiction books that people are wanting to read…they are very popular, nice and wholesome, just the thing you need Robyn! I also agree with the Tim LaHaye recommendation

      • Liz 19 May 2010 / 3:37 pm

        OK, so Linda might be on track with Christian Fiction and authors that fit that genre, but are the suggestions going to be ones that Robyn is going to like – I’m thinking not. Karen Kingsbury, Beverly Lewis and Jeanette Oke are all well and good for suggesting to people requesting Christian Fiction but are all a bit *yawn* If you want that kind of style though, Francine Rivers is always a good one – a bit soppy perhaps but popular and, in my opinion, better than the afore mentioned authors.

        Not a fan of the Left Behind series and I confess, not sure about Harry Kraus since I haven’t heard of him but perhaps you could give Frank Peretti a go, maybe ‘The Oath’ or the classic ones of his, ‘Piercing the Darkness’ or ‘This Present Darkness’. I’m with Helen and Donna’s recommendation of CS Lewis, he is always good.

    • Megan 21 May 2010 / 11:42 am

      the from a distance author is Tamera Alexander. Awesome author. Wild west themed christian fiction is pretty big right now.

  14. Megan 21 May 2010 / 11:41 am

    Try Karen Kingsbury – would recommend any of hers. For a wild west type feel try any Tamera Alexander books, or Tracie Peterson, or Maggie Brendan. If it’s Amish you’re after try Beverley Lewis or Lauraine Snelling – although they all tend to be in series. Francine Rivers is well worth a read as well.

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