Following a rabbit trail turning off of the previous post….
In 1997, when the Bible suddenly became real to me in a new way, I swept my bookshelves clean of all fiction collected since 1984 and started to refill them with theology, Christian living, and other Bible related books. Almost my entire reading life began to revolve around nonfiction religious works. I looked contemptuously on my previous love of fiction, and determined that all that reading was a waste of life. After all, my hero wrote a book called Don’t Waste Your Life.
Now, however, having home-schooled four children for seven years following the classical education model—as well as my insufferable love of being lost in a fantastical world, which I remembered in August 2008 when I dug out my tattered copy of The Chronicles of Amber—the importance of literature and fiction has resurrected itself in my life.
Somewhere in 2002, I read Douglas Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, which has changed our entire view of education and caused us to embark on a homeschooling voyage that neither Wendy or I could have ever envisioned. Once our children hit seventh grade, they begin the Omnibus program, which is a curriculum combining theology, history, and literature. Three years into this program, our shelves are filled with classic Western literature. Our family is a reading machine. Every one of us consumes books. We read the hard stuff for school and the lighter stuff for fun. Rarely are our kids without a book.
As a family we have read aloud Huckleberry Finn, The Lord of the Rings, the Wingfeather Saga, and the entire 13-volumes of Lemony Snickett’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Obviously, my earlier knee jerk reaction about fiction has changed. The main reason for the change is that we know inherently it isn’t wrong to read stories. It helps, though, to find others who agree and argue for us.
Peter Leithart recently did this for us very well. Read his short essay series on Why Read? here and here. He begins his Why Read? essay...
For Christians, the question at a certain level answers itself. We read because we are people of the book, the people of Moses, David, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Matthew, Paul, and John. We read because in reading we encounter the God who is Word. Christians extend this argument easily to “edifying” reading. If we must read the Bible, then we also, it seems, have all good reason to read theology, church history, lives of the saints, devotional guides, Bunyan, always Bunyan. No one raises a protest when a Christian sits down with a serious tome (and, frankly, are tomes ever frivolous?).It’s sometimes a different story when the question “Why read?” means “Why should we read poetry, or fiction, or drama, or screenplays?” Ask that question, and you may get, at best, a blank stare, and at worst a harangue on the dangers of imagination. The more orthodox your interlocutor, the more likely you’ll get the harangue rather than the stare.
Please read it all (here and here) and help me think through why we should not feel guilty reading fiction.