Recently I had occasion to change into my flannel jammies at bedtime, pour my cup of chamomile, and listen, breathless, as Meryl Streep read me a story - specifically The Velveteen Rabbit, the classic children's novel by Margery Williams.
I'd gotten a new iPhone, and, fascinated by all the amazing apps I could find for the thing, I ran across a free offer of a Meryl Streep/Velveteen Rabbit app - with music by George Winston, no less. (The app is no longer free, but you can still get it for $1.99. And if that's too much or you don't have an iPhone or iPad or other compatible devise, I've supplied the video at the end of this post.)
I remembered, nestling into my covers and pushing "play," that I had loved this book since I first discovered it at the age of fifteen. I'd forgotten, however, that the story always made me cry, and that it always made me want to be kind, to not have to be carefully kept.
Hmmm... I pondered. Wasn't fiction meant to entertain and not to teach a lesson? Well, the story did entertain. It swept me into its spell and by turns it charmed, troubled, angered, frightened and finally enchanted me... and at the same time made me a bit more willing to sacrifice my button eyes and whiskers if I could only be real one day.
I bring this up because I've noted a discrepancy between the non-fiction books and the novels that Christian readers seem to favor. Have you checked the titles out there? I'll name some in the comments if you like, but just mentioning them will stir controversy, because the publishers were brave, God bless them. These books call us to hard questions, harder answers, and at the end of them (in my opinion) new hope. And readers are buying the books, engaging the questions.
But would I get in too much trouble if I suggested that in the fiction these same readers buy, the questions tend to be... simpler? I've heard people say, more than once, "When I read a novel, I just want to escape."
Me too. When I read a story, I want to escape my own thoughts, my own ways of thinking, and try on someone else's for a change.
I once had a conversation with a friend about the reason fiction was good for the young teens in her class. "Fiction is all about empathy," I told her. "It helps us see things from other people's eyes."
And The Velveteen Rabbit fosters empathy in a way that Everyone Poops could never do. Okay, I know, the analogy is hardly fair, but... well, this is my blog post. The truth is that there are many non-fiction books that foster empathy, and my guess is that they do it, every time, by straying into the novelist's camp and telling a story.
Remember (if you can) any history book from your school days about World War II and Nazi Germany. Did that book come close to teaching you the truths you found in Anne Frank's Diary?
Let's try this exercise: Name a non-fiction book that has stirred you recently. What questions did that book ask you? Can you name a novel that explores the same questions? If not, say so, and maybe someone else can suggest a title.
I'll join in too. But you first. We love to read what you have to say.
Oh - and here's the promised video: