I have been a Christian and a bookworm for as long as I can remember. But it was only a few years ago that I discovered and embraced Christian fiction. I think I knew in the back of my mind that it was out there. But I thought it was the stuff that sat ignored in those bookstores where you go to buy a nice Bible, or the latest devotional, or a wall hanging featuring a pretty pastoral scene and a Bible verse. And not the kind of thing you might want to read for enjoyment.
I assumed Christian fiction was for the type of Christian who was afraid of regular fiction. The type of Christian who avoids movie theaters out of principle regardless of what’s showing and who considers dancing a sin worse than sex out of wedlock. I figured that if I wanted to be edified, I’d read the Bible or a nonfiction Christian book, and if I wanted to be entertained, I’d read whatever fiction was popular in the world at large.
Now that I’m reading more Christian fiction, and writing it, I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that it suffers from a lot of false assumptions and overgeneralizations. And that Christians would do well to read more of it, and talk more about what they’re reading. Allow me to explain.
Some say Christian fiction is too preachy or didactic. That the stories aren’t stories so much as thinly veiled evangelism. While I’m sure you could find examples to support that idea, I’ve found that many of the best authors of Christian fiction (and fiction in general) avoid “telling” in favor of “showing.” When the characters are allowed to make mistakes, face the consequences and learn from them, and when the Christian element arises naturally from the characters and the situations they’re facing, it doesn’t come across as preachy. It comes across as thought-provoking and discussable. And in my opinion, that makes for good reading.
Some say Christian fiction is too bland. That it’s been sanitized and pasteurized until there’s no life left in it. Let’s just say that some Christian novels are kinder and gentler than others. Some readers are looking simply for a clean, safe read. Others want to be challenged by more complicated and potentially controversial themes and ideas. And there are Christian authors and novels out there appealing to both ends of the spectrum and everywhere in between, with entertaining and enjoyable books. It might just take a little digging to find the authors and titles that will appeal to any given individual. But is that surprising? Even in the general fiction market, not every author appeals to every reader to the same degree.
What I think a lot of Christians don’t realize is just how much Christian fiction is published and how widely varied it is. Whatever your preferred genre or style of writing, there’s a good chance Christian fiction offers it – romance, mystery, suspense, science fiction, historical, literary. You name it, chances are, it’s out there. The problem as I see it, is that most libraries and secular bookstores carry a very limited selection of Christian fiction, and few people take the time to look beyond what’s readily available. Even Christian bookstores tend to stock only a fraction of what’s out there. Publishers, bookstores, and libraries try to guess at what will be popular, and supply that kind of book, but it’s an imperfect process. The good news (or bad news, depending on your perspective) is that what’s readily available is impacted by what sells.
So here’s my suggestion. If you’re a Christian, who hasn’t read much Christian fiction and are open to trying it, start seeking it out. Consider reading not just one book by one author, but a wide sampling of it. Read across sub-genres and across publishing houses. And when you find a book or an author you love, write reviews and tell your friends. Chances are, they’ll love it too, and when they buy their copies, sales increase, publishers take note, and more books of that type will be available in the future. While you’re at it, ask those same friends for recommendations. Most likely they can recommend some titles you’d love to read too. And as more Christians read Christian fiction, the publishing industry will discover there really is a market for it, and a greater variety will become more readily available in bookstores and libraries.
In my opinion, it’s worth a little digging to find books you’ll love. There are a lot of gems out there in the world of Christian fiction just waiting to be discovered. I’ll be blogging here about some of the books and authors I’m reading as I continue to explore the world of Christian fiction, so consider subscribing to my blog and reading along with me.
Do you have any favorite titles or authors when it comes to Christian fiction? What is it you like about them? Please share your comments below, so the rest of us can seek out those books.