Last Friday, after reading Matt Mikalatos’s excellent post introducing the work of Gene Wofle, I rebelled. I value Matt as a quality writer with high standards. I think he understands writing and theology and brings both to bear in his work. I think he did an excellent job giving us an overview of the work of Gene Wolfe.
But after reading his thoughts and those of some of our commenters, I put my own recent reading experience into the mix and sort of revolted–not seriously in such a way as to disown fantasy or walk away from my faith or anything drastic like that. In fact most people wouldn’t realize I was rebelling if I didn’t tell them.
But here’s the thing. In response to my little rant Friday, D. M. Dutcher, one of our Spec Faith followers, interacted with my thoughts on his own blog:
Rebecca Luella Miller had a counterpoint on her blog. She’s rebelling against the idea that there are must-read novels or styles. I think it’s more about how she shouldn’t feel forced to read something which violates her sense of ”whatsoever is good, pure, etc” from the verse. She mentions disliking the violence in Christian horror, or not being able to get through A Wizard of Earthsea due to lack of interest. The Book of the Dun Cow is an interesting choice to dislike too. I’ve read it, and it is a fairly violent little fable for what it is.
To be honest, I was surprised by D. M.’s comments. It’s never crossed my mind to use Philippians 4:8 as a standard for what I read or watch on T.V. or what movies I go to. Several years ago I realized upon reading Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment (IVP Books) by Brian Godawa that other people actually do take that verse and measure the books they choose to read against Paul’s list of things he says we should “dwell” on: whatever is true, right, honorable, pure, lovely, of good repute or reputation.
I’m not sure why I’ve never thought of that list as a standard for fiction–perhaps because I thought it unattainable in life. I mean, it’s hard to interact in this world and only let your mind dwell on the good–simply because the evil is right there beside and among the good. So too in reading.
Take Narnia, for example. Before Lucy, Susan, Edmund, and Peter ever find their way through the wardrobe, they are forced into a separation from their parents because of World War II. Then upon entering Narnia they soon encounter the tyranny of a never-ending winter and the rule of the White Witch. Was any of that pure, lovely or of good repute? No, no, and no. So do we stop reading fiction, and perhaps history too, in order to maintain this standard?
Personally, I think this list fit in with what Paul was addressing earlier in chapter four–an ongoing dispute of some kind between two Christian women. I think Paul spends verses three through eight addressing ways to bring such disputes to an end: rejoice in the Lord (a change of emphasis), speak with gentleness (a change in approach), be anxious for nothing (a change in attitude), pray (a change in power), and finally, dwell on things that are excellent and worthy of praise (a change in focus).
D. M. also mentioned my “dislike for violence.” I immediately thought of a scene I wrote in book two of The Lore Of Efrathah in which the Kadahak cannibalize one of their own. The entire series, in fact, has a good share of violence.
In my post, I had a particular book in mind when I wrote
I hefted myself through a number of “Christian horror” titles, and yes, there were messages of redemption toward the end, following pages and pages of ritual pagan human sacrifice, loss, and grief or fear and madness.
However, I was thinking less about the violent act and more about its affect on me. As I’ve thought during the weekend about my standards for what I read and write, I realize my reaction to the story plays the biggest part. From my post again:
I don’t want to read stuff that is dragging my mind and heart into despair
That’s why I would have no trouble watching Avatar again. There’s a movie that is blatantly anti-God as He revealed Himself in the pages of Scripture, and there is a lot of violence and hate. But the movie didn’t create despair, at least not in me.
So maybe the entire reading experience is subjective. Maybe there isn’t an “everyone should read this” book out there.
Maybe the best we can do is know ourselves and what’s good for us to read, what will stir us to love and good deeds, what will cause us to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, what will help us fix our eyes on Jesus.
So, yes, I think I’m done reading what other people tell me I ought to read. Not that I won’t entertain suggestions and recommendations, but I’m not going to give in to guilt and read stuff I know going in will leave me in a place I don’t want to be.
Is that hard-headed? Am I closing my eyes to “reality”? I’ll let you be the judge.