Archives For Fiction

This entry is part 17 of 22 in the seriesBook of the Month

GileadThis is the first fiction work to be included as our Book of the Month. I’m sure it won’t be the last. After years of people telling me that I need to read Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, I finally did (the book is a Pulitzer Prize winner, by the way). Quite simply: This is far and away one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s in my top three, for sure. Having just finished it this weekend, I’m still feeling emotional and inspired.

Like all good fiction, Gilead pulls you away from the strains of every day life so that you can see life in a new light and then be thrust back into life with a new sense of appreciation and wonder. Here’s how Robinson does it.

Gilead is written as a memoir from an old preacher writing to his young son after having been diagnosed with an illness that will soon end his life. John Ames, the preacher, writes to explain himself to the son who will be too young at the time of his death to understand who his father was. He writes about his preacher father, his preacher grandfather, the small and quirky town in which they live, the old and dilapidated church and its history, etc.

The storyline itself is fairly simply and endearing. It’s Robinson’s fascinating ability to draw her readers casually into the deep mysteries of life and faith that give this book its power. Here are just a couple of examples from near the end of the book. The Reverend Ames tells his son:

“I love the prairie! So often I have seen the dawn come and the light flood over the land and everything turn radiant at once, that word ‘good’ so profoundly affirmed in my soul that I am amazed I should be allowed to witness such a thing.”

“It has seemed to me sometimes as though the Lord breathes on this poor gray ember of Creation and it turns to radiance—for a moment or a year or the span of a life. And then it sinks back into itself again, and to look at it no one would know it had anything to do with fire, or light. That is what I said in the Pentecost sermon. I have reflected on that sermon, and there is some truth in it. But the Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?”

These are just a couple of the gems Robinson offers in this masterful book. The plot and character development are wonderful, and the pacing of the book itself is a breath of fresh air. Robinson has a calm writing style, and John Ames’ simple outlook on life as he reflects on a long life in a quiet but often troubled town is oddly life-giving.

Marilynne Robinson

I would have a hard time explaining exactly why I love this book as much as I do, but I’m certain that I have closed the back cover with a greater appreciation for life, a greater respect for the mysteries of God, an increased love for the Creator, and who knows what else. I am also certain that I will be re-reading this book multiple times.

If you love reading fiction, this is a must read. If you have not yet learned to love fiction, this would be an excellent place to start. And if you need to be convinced of why fiction matters, click here for some wise words from C. S. Lewis.

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the seriesC. S. Lewis on Reading Well

C S Lewis 5Last week we looked at C. S. Lewis’ thoughts on what makes a good reader and what makes a good book. Today I want to close off that series by examining Lewis’ thoughts on fiction.

I don’t believe it’s too much to say that Lewis found fiction indispensible to his spiritual life. Think of how seriously (in the proper sense of the word) he took his Narnia series. For Lewis, fiction was an important part of enjoying and exploring the world in which God placed us.

I’m going to let Lewis do the talking here:

“What then is the good of—what is even the defence for—occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist…? …The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by natures sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself…We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.”[1]

The bookstore offers an unbelievable opportunity: Here are thousands of perspectives on this world. Here are a host of experiences, carefully shaped and transmitted for a variety of reasons. Crack the cover and you can enter another world, you can see with another’s eyes, you can revisit your past or lean into your future. Why wouldn’t we be readers?

“The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented…

“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality…in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself…Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”[2]

All of the arts give us this opportunity. A chance to see the world as we’ve never seen it before—a promise of transfiguration. Cornelius Plantinga explains that “the educated Christian has more to be Christian with.” So it is with the literary Christian.

This world of unfathomable diversity and beauty lies all around us. Some of it can be experienced outside our front doors. Other parts lie just beyond the horizon. Some of it is experienced through conversation. Still other parts of our world can be explored only by turning pages. But it’s all there, like a gift waiting to be unwrapped and enjoyed.

C. S. Lewis knew well the joys of reading. And I am beyond thankful for the books he left us to read, including the advice he gave us for reading well.


[1] C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961) 137.

[2] Ibid., 140-141.

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