Why I Enjoy Fiction x

There are times when I just can’t get my brain to stop processing at the end of the day. It’s a bit like the Energizer Bunny, it keeps going, and going, and going. At times like this, I resort for refuge to the wonderful world of make believe. There is something about becoming engrossed in a story that helps me to relax and allows my mind to cycle down so that sleep is not so hard to attain. For me, it’s more effective than counting sheep.

There is great power in story—power that is much more significant to humanity than a simple sleep aid. Though I will admit that there are times when it seems like there is nothing more important than a good night’s sleep. This significance of story is brought to light by Greg Stevenson, in his post “The Necessity of Fiction” on his blog (Caritas). Here he writes:

Yesterday I was reading a book on C. S. Lewis that was discussing his connection to G. K. Chesterton. In one of Chesterton's early writings from 1901, he discusses the role of the sort of pop culture of his day versus high literature. Chesterton makes the intriguing statement that "literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity." That thought intrigues me. Fiction, paradoxically, is a necessary force for constructing and dealing with our reality.

This is excellent, isn’t it? Fiction is a necessity! This is probably news to some of my super-studious colleagues and friends who lovingly chide me about reading so much fiction, while smugly stating, “I just don’t have time for fiction.”

The pervasive influence of fiction is underscored by Charles Bohner in his Introduction to Short Fiction. He asks:

"Do you know this song?"

Come ‘n listen to a story ‘bout a man name Jed

Poor mountaineer barely kept his family fed

An’ then one day, he was shootin’ at some food,

An’ up thru the ground came a bubblin’ crude

Oil that is! Black gold! Texas tea!

Well, the first thing you know, Jed’s a millionaire

Kin-folk said, “Jed, move away from there.”

Said, “Californy is the place y’ oughta be,”

So they loaded up the truck, and they moved to Beverly

Hills that is! Swimmin’ pools! Movie stars!

It would be frightening to know how many people in the world can sing the theme song to “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Whether they learned it in the 1960’s, when the television show originally appeared, or whether they learned it in the reruns and syndication in the decades since, millions of people, worldwide, are familiar with the basic outline of this one family’s story. The strange thing is that this family never existed.

At one time in the United States, there were families like the Clampetts who lived in the backwoods, growing up poor and unsophisticated. But Jed, Granny, Jethro, and Daisy Mae are not living, breathing people; they are characters imagined by writers, actors, and directors, and finally by us viewers. However, the fact that this family isn’t real and that they never experienced any of the events we see them experience does not change the other equally valid fact that we viewers enjoy watching them. Somehow all of us who live our lives in a very real world of jobs, taxes, families, traffic, and so on, find pleasure and even a little enlightenment in the story of these people who never lived. The pleasure we receive from their story is an example of the magic of fiction.

Of course, the compelling voice in favor of the power of story is Jesus Christ. His use of story is unparalleled. His parables encapsulate some of the most important aspects of His teaching. Though we did not walk with Him, we can almost hear Him say, “The kingdom of heaven is like…a man who sowed good seed in his field…a mustard seed, which a man planted in his field…yeast a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour…” When you think about it, the Bible is more than anything else a story book, given the fact that it is written mainly in the narrative form.

So, I enjoy fiction. I agree with Chesterton and believe it is a necessity, as well. It can help bring clarity to life, by allowing us to enter into the imagined successes and failures of others. Of course, fiction can be used to cause confusion. This is where readers must exercise caution. While fiction writers attempt to convince their readers to suspend disbelief, this does not mean that we, as consumers of their prose, suspend our good sense. As readers, we must remember that we are not buying into a worldview; we’re just reading a story!

Mitch Albom’s little book “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” is a good case study. I’m not buying his premise in the book, but I did enjoy the read. The last paragraph, indeed the last sentence in the book, made every minute I spent with Mitch Albom worthwhile. Feast your eyes on these words:

Lines formed at Ruby Pier—just as a line formed someplace else: five people, waiting, in five chosen memories, for a little girl name Amy or Annie to grow and to love and to age and to die, and to finally have her questions answered—why she lived and what she lived for. And in that line now was a whiskered old man, with a linen cap and a crooked nose, who waited in a place called the Stardust Band Shell to share his part of the secret of heaven: that each affects the other and the other affects the next, and the world is full of stories, but the stories are all one.

My favorite Christian fiction author is Francine Rivers. Her books are well-crafted; background research is thorough; the characters are credible; and the theology is refreshingly biblical. There are, of course, many others—too many to mention them. I’m wondering, though, whether any readers of this blog have favorites they would like to mention. That’s assuming that any of you endured this marathon post long enough to finally get to the end of it.

Do you have a book or author you would like to mention?

About a fellow sojourner

a sojourner in life, trying to follow in the steps of Jesus.
This entry was posted in Blogroll, Christian Fiction, Christian Living, Christianity, Creative Writing, Following Jesus, Reading, Religion, Spirituality & Religion, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Why I Enjoy Fiction x

  1. Jennifer says:

    I am not surprised in the least that you are a Francine Rivers fan. I, too, am a HUGE fan of hers. I think I have read REDEEMING LOVE a million times! It is my favorite all-time work of fiction, and that is saying much since I am a literature teacher. I love it so much because of its beautiful parallels to Hosea and Gomer. I also love the MARK OF THE LION series. As a matter of fact, I think I may reread them again this summer since I have all this free time on my hands!

    What do you think of Jan Karon’s Mitford series. Totally different from Rivers, but oh so good to me!

    His,
    Jennifer

  2. Greg England says:

    For a guy who almost never read fiction, I was introduced to Dee Henderson’s O’Malley series last summer and found them very enjoyable. Since then I’ve read quite a few other fictional novels. For the most part, though, I still prefer a good historical book or a biography / autobiography. One of my favorite authors is John Ortberg.

  3. Jennifer: You mentioned all my favorites, though I’ve not read anything by JKM. I’ll have to look at her work.

    Greg: I’m with you on the bio/autobio’s. I really enjoy them, too. Of course, I enjoy leafing through the dictionary. I’m also especially interested in the study of the ancient history. Somebody’s gotta’ buy those books, right?

  4. Oops. I forgot to mention to you, Greg, that I would recommend you pick up a copy of Francine River’s “The Last Sin Eater.” I’d really like to know what you think about this work.

  5. Todd says:

    Bill, thanks for the kind words on my blog.

    I’ve never really been into Christian fiction much – mostly because I’m largely ignorant of many, shall we say, non-crappy books. I’m not saying they don’t exist, I’m saying I’ve never been confronted with them. When I finish my current queue of books, I may need to pick some up.

    That said, The Chronicles of Narnia have generated more thought and challenge than many theological books I’ve read.

  6. Very good observation, Todd! The Chronicles of Narnia have always been difficult for me to read, though I’ve given it a go. I appreciate you stopping by. God bless!

  7. Dee Andrews says:

    Hi, Bill –

    I’ve been reading your posts all week and found them very thought provoking and I really wanted to comment on each of them, but had major computer problems for two days, doctor’s visit and stuff all day Wednesday and then trying to catch up yesterday with everything else. So I must apologize for now getting around to commenting any sooner.

    And you were so good to leave some neat comments about the “Land of Enchantment” last week at Finding Direction, too. I was really wanting to email you about some of the places you mentioned because we used to go up into Cimarron Canyone camping with a couple of other families from church when I was a girl and it was such great fun and so beautiful there. I know exactly what you are talking about with the cold spring water. We’d all go fishing and eat rainbow trout just out of the stream, cleaned, rolled in cornmeal and fried over a camp fire in the evenings.

    THAT’S what I wish I could do more than anything if we get to go on our trip to New Mexico. Not the camping part, but fishing and eating some fried rainbow trout fresh out of the stream! Now THAT’S a necedsity of life, as much as good fiction!

    Your post about good fiction brings a big smile. You see, Tom and I have carried on lively discussions for years about the value of fiction versus non-fiction. I can’t begin to tell you how many times we’ve talked about it or that it’s come up in the most funny ways in conversations.

    He’s a very avid reader of fiction. As in 2 or 3 books a week. Mostly mysteries and crime novels. He loves Elmore Leonard and very humorous crime stories. He’s also very into historically based fiction (and non-fiction) about the Civil War and Revolutinoary War and the like. His latest favorite author in this genre is Jeff Shaara, who’s written several excellent books on that period and before and after (his father first wrote the one “Killer Angels” from which they made the movie “Gettysberg.”) He likes (and so do I) John Grisham a whole lot and I also like Scott Turow (I’m into the legal mysteries and the writings of attorneys since I am one, I guess, and appreciate the legal dealings.)

    While I’ve read 100s and 100s of fiction books over the years, beginning when I was very young, by the time I hit adulthood began to favor non-fiction books. Lots of biographies, autobiographies, socieology, psychology, journalistic work, especially in what they call “The New Journalism,” which is creative non-fiction. The best of that genre are (were, in the case of Hunter S. Thompson) Hunter Thompson (who rode with and wrote about “Hell’s Angels” and who did “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” as well as numerous articles for Rolling Stone) and Thomas Wolfe (The Right Stuff).

    That is the kind of writing I strive to perfect – creative non-fiction.

    Tom and I knew each other – had worked together for 3 years, when I was Community Editor for the paper here and he was Ad Director – when I later went back to college. I was always harassing him about reading strictly “trashy ol’ novels,” thinking (as us journalist types tended to do in contrast to the mercenery ad men) that my reading was of a much more worthwhile nature. So, to give him a fair shot, I told him that I was enrolling in a college literature course titled “Introduction to Fiction,” so that I could perhaps learn of some of the more subtle nuances of such work.

    That was fun and I read a lot of good work. Jane Austen, George Orwell, Doestefesky, D. H. Laurence, etc. (Although the fact I remember most from that course is that “The Little Train That Could” is a subversive book.)

    The funniest thing about our ongoing discussions is that whenever – as in always – something comes up that he has a good understanding about and interesting knowledge of, I’ll invariably, in admiration, ask him “Where did you learn THAT, for goodness sakes?” and he’ll smile and say, “In a trashy ol’ novel, of course,” before he bursts out laughing.

    I think the culmination of that effect was when I told him one time that what had always stood out to me most in the way he treated me as a woman and as his companion, with him being the consdierate and attentive man, was (pay attention here guys because this is of vital importance for your relationship with your wife from now on, I’m telling you – it will make a lasting impression on her) that he always – from the time we first ate out a meal together at a restaurant, asked me what I’d like to have and then spoke to the waiter (or waitress) to order it for me.

    He’s always done that and I still find it so special and loving and considerate and suave. I finally told him that – he didn’t know I’d even thought about it or that it had impressed me so – and then I asked him – where on earth did you learn to do that? You are the only man I know who does so and I think it is SO neat.

    He looked at me and started laughing. “I learned it from James Bond,” he said. “You know – in a trashy ol’ novel.”

  8. Dee Andrews says:

    Excuse the pitiful spelling and typos above, y’all. Me who is the perfectionish who must edit for hours on end even after publishing blog posts! Sorry.

  9. Dee Andrews says:

    “perfectionish??” Good grief – I’m going to quit while I’m ahead.

  10. Dee: Dot’n woryr abotu it we all understadn!

    Sure appreciate your comments! Great to learn more about you and gain insights into your life.

    Do you remember the little curios shop near the entrance of Cimarron Canyon? My aunt and uncle’s cabin was about a mile from this little shop.

    BTW, I’m sure we know many people in common from the Abernathy area. Those were the days, huh?

  11. Deb says:

    Man am I scared! I just sang every interval correctly on the Beverly Hillbillies song, including imitating the basso intonation on the bits like ‘Oil that is! Black gold! Texas tea!’ And I haven’t seen Granny or Jethro and the like in donkey’s years … HELP!

    I LOVE fiction … when I was a kid growing up in Colorado, I used to hunker down in my bed underneath the bed covers and use the light on the electric blanket dial to read by so my parents wouldn’t catch me. The library was my favourite hangout next to church and Long’s Peak. In Kandahar, to kill time between a good read, I helped our school librarian set up the Dewey decimal system in our little library. (Later she would become the Head of Library Sciences at OU for many years!) And the dictionary and thesaurus were/are great for the imagination!

    Now, I love reading history, biography/autobiography, and musical treatise (still!). I loved Jan Karon’s Mitford series, but ran out of those when she stopped writing them. Can’t get her stuff here. Am a member of the Associated Christian Writers here in the UK. Absolutely bummed that Zondervan has pulled the plug on publishing and promoting British Christian writers.

    The great thing about following great fiction is you never know which way it will lead you next … always an adventure!

    Even if the lights are getting a bit dimmer under the covers. šŸ™‚

    Cheers!

  12. Just dropped in from A Christian Worldview of Fiction after you posted there, Bill.

    Great discussion. As you might figure, I love fiction. I’m not shy about reading non-fiction either, however.

    I’m a fantasy writer and a fantasy lover. My favorite is Lord of the Rings. Narnia is not far behind. There has been some recent Christian fantasy published, the best in my opinion being Karen Hancock with her Guardian-King series.

  13. Dee Andrews says:

    Bill –

    I can’t say that I remember that little curio shop outside Cimarron Canyon, but I’m sure I’ve probably been in it and at least some of the kids among us bought some things there. I can certainly remember going up to Eage Nest one morning to check on all the guys who had ventured out and up there to go fishing in the lake there in the middle of the night. That was one of the most barren places I’ve ever seen for fishing or anything else!

    My son David was just out there last summer in Eagle Nest for a family reunion on his dad’s side and he certainly wasn’t impressed with it. He said it’s rather run down there and they stayed in some non-descript motel his aunt had invested in that apparently was pretty depressing. I’ve heard Red River is highly commercialized these days, too, so I’m having qualms about going up into the mountains of New Mexico for a “romantic getaway!”

    We’ll have to compare notes on any Abernathy connections. I’ve been gone from there a very long time and the last time I was there at all was in 1999 for a big townwide/school July 4th celebration. They hold them every 5 years and the whole town turns out with all the school alumni from my mom and dad’s age down. My parents both grew up there and went to school there as did most of the parents of all of my classmates.

    My mom still owns 80 acres there that she’d inherited that she has a young man farming for her. It’s still got water on it and he grows cotton still. But I haven’t been up there in quite some time. Actually, though, I’ve got several blog friends in Texas who are distantly “related” to me through marriages to Abernathy guys and gals and also have some who have kids married to church members who were still living (and some still are) from when I was growing up.

    I also keep meaning to tell you that I have a good blog friend (my very first link I added to my blog) who was a minister in Connecticut who has now moved (in August) to Amarillo where he is the director for the Bible Chair for Amarillo college. His name is Frank Bellizzi (like I say you can find him on my blog links) and his sister lives over in Wellington, where my daughter and her husband and family moved last summer. So I’ve been emailing back and forth to her, too.

    My son-in-law decided to take up ministry (he’d been a computer programmer guru making huge bucks in Dallas) and is now the minister of the Christian church there and turning the little town upside down in good ways, apparently. Everyone knows who he is and they’ve gotten all kinds of ecumenical gattherings going. Everyone likes them a lot and he’s doing good work. His only nemisis is the Church of Christ minister who won’t do anything in fellowship with any of the rest of the churches or with Garth so Garth goes over to the church building, pours himself coffee and goes in to sit and force the guy to talk with him! Typical . . ..

    To find out the “rest of the story,” as they say, about my career as a journalist (in one of my previous lives) you’ll have to read “You’d Think I’d Have It Made. It won’t take long to read and is quite enlightening.

    That was the most fun I’ve ever had daily, I think, as far as work goes. It was a blast.

  14. Dee Andrews says:

    Your times on your comments are way off for some reason. It’s just 2 p.m. here, but my comment says 7 p.m.! What’s up with that?

  15. Dee, didn’t you: I’m ahead of my time!

  16. Greg England says:

    I ordered “Sin Eater” from Amazon. Used. About $4. Will let you know what I think about it later.

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