Monday, May 30, 2011

To Read or Not to Read

Mark Twain once said that a classic was “something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.” I guess English teachers were assigning some pretty dry reading in his day, too. It’s a rare student who can say they never met a classic they didn’t love, but there are some exceptions to Mr. Twain’s rule.

Hollywood knows how to tap into a good story, and that’s why there are movie versions of Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca, Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, and more recently, Jane Eyre, to name a few. These may or may not be in your to-be-read pile, but seeing the movie often inspires me to read the book, and I’ll bet I’m not the only one.

Just what gets a book pegged with the dry moniker of ‘a classic’? I did some sleuthing, and the general consensus is that classics all share these traits:

  • Authentic storylines and plots that reflect social issues of the time
  • Idealistic characters. In the end, the good guys win.
  • Language that is intricate
  • A moral lesson
  • Longevity. Their popularity doesn’t diminish over time.

Christian fiction classics go a step further, having the ability to propel readers farther than simple messages of morality or social change can take them, to where they profoundly impact our patterns of thinking on a spiritual level.

If you did an online search of Christian classics, you would find some classics that are not labeled as Christian fiction but are steeped in Christian values, nonetheless. I’m thinking of L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, for example. Great, wholesome entertainment that sticks to your literary ribs.

But a Christian fiction classic is poised to help the reader go the step further, books like C.S Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters and The Chronicles of Narnia, Catherine Marshall’s Christy, John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress and Lloyd C. Douglas’ The Robe. These classics have profoundly impacted me over the years. Others by Graham Greene and Flannery O’Connor have left their imprints on me, as well. There are, of course, many excellent Christian fiction books out there – many of them destined to become classics - but I mention these in particular because they are older and have withstood the test of time. It will be interesting to note which ones will make the grade 20 years from now. I predict that Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love will make the list.

What have you read recently that changed you in some way and that you feel strongly will be a future classic?


Patti Hill said...

Me first! Me first! Both Gilead and Home by Marilynne Robison must be on the future Christian classics list. Beautiful and powerful. And just dry enough to keep out the riff-raff.

Nicole said...

This Present Darkness/Piercing the Darkness. Redeeming Love. Demon . . . a memoir. The Passion of Mary-Margaret. To name a few.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Peace Like a River. I will never forget the ending when...well, I don't want to spoil it for those who haven't read the book. I was profoundly moved. Sigh.

Megan Sayer said...

I'm amazed at how books rated as classics can be construed as dry and boring! Most of them are, as you say Debbie, intricate and authentic, with big concepts you have to wrestle with. I'm constantly surprised by the mundane language, characters or storylines in much mainstream fiction. Often they're just too "neat".

Maybe I'm not an "average" reader though. I think classics like One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Anna Karenina, Wuthering Heights and Les Mis have spoiled me completely.

Am I just a literary snob?

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Ooh, I LOVED One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. My other favourite classics of all time are Lord of the Flies and Rebecca. I like dark and dystopian, as you can see. No Jane Austen for me... (sorry!)

Destined to be a modern classic (in fact it's already been labelled as such) is The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I've read this book over and over, and I still get swept away by the utter, breathtaking gorgeousness of the writing, the tension and pace of the story. In my mind, it's a masterpiece. It has dark themes, which doesn't bother me all that much: my one gripe is that it functions as a commentary on society but ultimately gives no hope. I think I'd like to invent a new genre - redemptive dystopian. ;)

Karen @ a house full of sunshine said...

Oh oh, and The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Comments as per above.

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

'Redemptive dystopian' is an interesting concept. Hmmm...
I think it's the hope of each one of us to write stories of eternal significance that both ring true and offer hope. Tall order! 'Escape' has it's place - we all need to step away from the edge from time to time. But we can't live there, can we?

Nicole said...

Loved Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, and Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Loved Ken Kesey's writing so many years ago.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to add Blue Hole Back Home by Joy Jordan Lake. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it. It's a beautiful story, beautifully told. And I've just read What We Keep by Elizabeth Berg (for the 3rd time).

Debbie Fuller Thomas said...

Sharon, I loved What We Keep, also. I'm eyeing the story structure for my WIP - sorta loosely based.

Megan Sayer said...

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest is very much redemptive dystopian! If you think of it as following the archetypal "mysterious stranger" storyline, the Chief is freed to live by McMurphy's life and death. It's got almost biblical references in that sense.

I LOVED Lord of the Flies too. That was the specific book that made me decide (at fourteen) I wanted to be a novelist. Dystopian, yes. Not strong on the redemption front though.

Susie Finkbeiner said...

"Embrace Me", "Resurrection in May", "The Passion of Mary-Margaret".

Seriously, I'd nearly given up on Christian Fiction (at the time I could only seem to find stuff I didn't like). Then I found Lisa Samson and a whole bunch of other amazing Christian writers. Yay!