In my previous post, I fire-housed you with personal convictions regarding fiction. Maybe you remain skeptical. That’s okay. No judgement here.
Maybe you struggle to see the point of reading fiction. You’re book-reading-time is crunched. You’d prefer not to waste it. And fiction books, after all, have many pages.
Some of them, particularly the obese ones – The Brothers Karamazov and War and Peace, for example – are intimidating. I’m not sure anyone, ever, has read War and Peace (1,225 pages) cover-to-cover. I’m also not sure what it says about your life if you have.
Point being, not all fiction books are created equal. And you have no idea where to start. A fair concern. I’ll address it momentarily.
There’s also the content concern. While I’m not interested in joining the morality police (what a lame occupation), I do recognize that some books contain few, if any, values. Books like 50 Shades of Grey or Lover Awakened, for example. Neither have I read. But, really, must I read them to know they’re void of inspiration? No is the answer.
Apart from the pleasure reads, you have a lion’s share of fiction books penned for mere entertainment. Nothing more. These books fill most of the shelves at your bookstore of choice.
You’re after something more. You want to read something that inspires you, wakes you from your slumber.
Whether you’re new to fiction or fancy yourself a connoisseur, I want to suggest a few books Christians should read. Most you will not find in the Christian section, but these books are deep and rich, laced with timeless and eternal themes.
Here they are, in no particular order…9 books every Christian should read.
1. The Fellowship of the Ring by J. R. R. Tolkien
The Fellowship of the Ring is the first of three volumes in the larger work, The Lord of the Rings. Now, I’d tell you to read all three volumes. But I’ll resist the urge and stick to single books (though The Lord of the Rings is actually a single work, chopped into three volumes, not a trilogy).
About the book. It’s an epic tale about the lust for and destruction of power, the importance of friendship, the redemptive nature of compassion. You also see the theme of longing for home weaved throughout.
The Lord of the Rings is considered one of the greatest literary achievements of the twentieth century. You’ll agree once you read it.
2. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
This book is a haunting look at the consequences of unhealthy missiology. It’s written beautifully but tells the sad story of a family, particularly its patriarch, who moves to a foreign country with a privileged mindset. He has no desire to understand the culture (post-colonial Africa). He looks down on the people to whom he feels called to convert.
As a result, a series of tragic events come upon his family. This book is required recommend in some seminary curriculums.
I see why.
3. The Alchemist by Paul Coelho
The Alchemist is about the search for meaning and purpose. And where are such things found? Inside, of course. Few ideas are more central to the message of Jesus, by the way. The abundant life is not found. It’s cultivated.
This is also a book that inspires you to join the journey, to reject status-quo living, to wake up, to know there is life beyond “what ifs” and “if onlys.” And oh, yes, The Alchemist shows the reality of and proper response to both suffering and failure.
4. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Gilead is a long letter, a love letter of sorts, part-memoir, part-autobiography written by a dying pastor to his son. John Ames is the pastor’s name, and he writes with courage and honesty. Such themes as suffering and sin and salvation all show up in Gilead.
This book won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. They don’t just give those awards away, you know. By its end, you will have experienced many emotions. But mostly, you will be grateful.
5. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
A Wrinkle in Time might fill the Children’s section. But it’s a powerful read, regardless of age. It’s a story about good and evil and the triumph of love. It does lack nuance – every character clearly represents good or evil, no ‘tweeners – but it’s rich in purpose and courage as well as its celebration of creativity and non-conformity.
This book, like many others on this list, is one in a larger series. So, again, I recommend just one book in the series, but to see the full picture, to appreciate the beauty of the story, you need to tarry on beyond A Wrinkle in Time to the other works in the series.
6. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A rare book that’s both warm and humorous as well as serious and tragic. Atticus Finch, the story’s protagonist, is a stand-in for all of us at our best. His integrity and convictions will leave a lasting mark on you.
The story itself deals with rape and injustice and racism, heavy stuff, for sure. Exactly why you need to read it, though. These issues are deep within the fabric of our country. To challenge them requires unwavering courage. To Kill a Mockingbird will challenge you to stand up for what’s good and true, to choose the right decision over the easy one.
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
I will stick to my one-book-per-point-rule. But I do so here with reluctance. The Harry Potter series consists of eight books, each one entertaining and laced with themes of privilege and power and purpose. But not until the eighth book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – do you see the full power and beauty of this story. Explicit references to Christian themes of death and resurrection and new life show up, as well as two Bible verses.
So, my official recommendation lies with the first book. But I dare you to read the others.
8. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was most likely required reading in your younger years. But you don’t remember it, let’s be honest. Time to read it anew. This book is the second installment in C. S. Lewis’s infamous fantasy tale The Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, the same C. S. Lewis who penned timeless classics like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters, among others.
Mr. Lewis was a beast of a writer and, as you probably know, a “reluctant convert” to Christianity. You should expect then, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to be plump full of Christian themes. And it is. Compassion and forgiveness might be the most important virtues in Lewis’s fantasy world. The theme of transformation is there as well, as are guilt and courage and friendship.
9. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Okay, so I dogged this book in the intro and now it’s on my shortlist of fiction books you should read. Maybe I’m a hypocrite and I’m sure most of you won’t read it, but I nonetheless MUST include The Brothers Karamazov. I have no choice, you see. It is that good. This book wrestles with big, deep questions about God, his nature and how he interacts with the world, about redemption through suffering, about moral responsibility and justice.
Epic, just epic.
I would love to hear from you.