>Becoming Discerning Readers-Exploring

>This is the final entry in my series about “Reforming Perspectives on Literature: Becoming Discerning Readers.”

We’ve defined some terms, discussed why we need to be reforming our perspectives, looked at specific strategies for becoming more discerning readers, and examined basic elements of fiction and some literary techniques. In this post, we’ll explore options for learning more about becoming discerning readers as well as options for reading enjoyment. The following paragraphs provide more information about recommended books, particularly those mentioned in this discussion. Like my listings of fiction elements and literary techniques, this is not an exhaustive list. Some favorite authors (Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens) are not on the fiction section of this list since my original audience was a group of young women in my church and part of my purpose was to make them aware of some books available in our church library.

Reforming Perspectives on Literature:

If you’re interested to learn more about reforming perspectives on literature, Leland Ryken is a prolific author who has written extensively on a Christian perspective of literature (as well as on many other subjects). He is the editor of The Christian Imagination, which contains many great essays and quotation gems about the practice of faith in writing and reading. Of particular interest in this anthology are Ryken’s essays, “Thinking Christianly About Literature” and “’Words of Delight’: A Hedonistic Defense of Literature.” I also recommend two essays by C.S. Lewis, “We Demand Windows” and “On Stories,” and an essay by J.R.R. Tolkien, “The Consolation of the Happy Ending.”

Becoming a Discerning Reader:

If you’d like to learn more about becoming a discerning reader, I recommend Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature by Gene Edward Veith Jr., which is written in an accessible style and gives a simple overview of literature. Weith’s purpose in writing this book was to help people become more discerning readers.

Literary Criticism:

If you want to learn more about literary criticism, there is a wealth of information available; however, you want to be careful what resources you utilize since so much modern literary theory takes a deconstructionist approach that is—in my opinion—basically worthless in developing an appreciation for literature. I recommend Northrop Frye as a thoughtful writer on the subject of literary criticism. Two books of his essays are Myth and Metaphor and Anatomy of Criticism. Frye’s writing is fairly academic in style and requires some concentration. An influential work on raeding an enjoying literature is An Experiment in Criticism by C.S. Lewis.

Guides to Classical Literature:

The Discarded Image by C.S. Lewis is a valuable guide to understanding Medieval and Renaissance literature. Louise Cowan & Os Guinness have edited Invitation to the Classics, which consists of brief and interesting introductions to classics and writing movements from ancient to modern times. Realms of Gold by Leland Ryken contains more detailed examinations of several classics from ancient to modern times.

Creativity and Culture:

Dorothy L. Sayers demonstrates how writing and reading reflect the three-fold character of the Trinty in The Mind of the Maker. Plowing in Hope: Toward a Biblical Theology of Culture by David Bruce Hegeman explores issues related to art’s role in reclaiming culture. Makoto Fujimura write poetic reflections on art and culture in Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art, and Culture.

Bible as Literature:

If you’re interested in learning How to Read the Bible as Literature…and Get More Out of It, you’ll enjoy this short book by Leland Ryken that helps readers appreciate the literary beauty of the Bible. Ryken has also written Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible, which is a longer and more detailed work on appreciating the literary beauty of the Bible. Ryken is one of the editors of a unique resource, the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, which is a comprehensive guide to imagery and literary patterns in the Bible.

Guides to Children’s Literature:

Leland Ryken teamed up with Marjorie Lamp Mead to write A Reader’s Guide Through the Wardrobe and A Reader’s Guide To Caspian, which provide excellent perspectives for reading the first two books of The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. For age-specific lists of books, you may appreciate The Book Tree: A Christian Reference for Children’s Literature by Elizabeth McCallum & Jane Scott.

Fiction from Christian Booksellers Association (CBA) Publishers:

Betrayed by Jeanette Windle is a suspense novel set in Guatemala City. Windle grew up as a missionary kid and spent many years as an adult in missionary contexts. This real life experience lends verisimilitude to her suspenseful books, but her painstaking research result in such remarkably accurate descriptions that she has been questioned by drug enforcement agencies about how she knew so much about their work. Her newest novel, Veiled Freedom, is set in Afghanistan. I know that she is currently hard at work on a sequel.

W. Dale Cramer is a relatively new author in the CBA camp who writes novels that may be of interest to men due to their blue-collar male protagonists. One of my favorites is his Bad Ground, which is a coming of age novel with a young man who learns about work and relationships. His Summer of Light is a delightful novel about an unemployed husband and father who discovers a lot about himself and his family.

Ann Tatlock is one of my favorite CBA authors. In Every Secret Thing, a teacher learns how to cope with the present when she learns how to deal with the past.
I’ll Watch the Moon is about a girl’s growing maturity while her brother is hospitalized with polio.

Lynn Austin is a humble and godly woman who reminds me of Elisabeth Elliot. In Until We Reach Home, three sisters flee Sweden for different reasons and find new homes in America. In Wings of Refuge, a woman’s adventures on an archeological dig in Israel lead to new understanding of the Middle East and her marriage.

Literary Fiction:

In Dwelling Places, Vinita Hampton Wright writes about an Iowa farm family dealing with emotional and financial crises. It is a realistic depiction of the emotional turmoil caused by depression and infidelity, showing the difficulty of communication within the family unit.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is a beautifully written novel in which a dying pastor reflects on his past and present life. I’m not a big fan of Robinson’s other fiction, but this is one of my all-time favorite novels. Since it doesn’t have much suspense or action, some people find it boring. It’s a refreshingly positive portrayal of a Christian pastor that shows his virtues as well as his faults. I appreciate the way it shows how to find beauty in the everyday things of life. And I love its sacramental imagery.

Wendell Berry is well known as a Christian who has made a name for himself in the mainstream publishing industry. His Hannah Coulter is a realistic portrayal of a woman’s long and difficult life.

Charles Martin seamlessly weaves together present time narration with flashbacks in a way that appears effortless. When Crickets Cry is about a heart-mending man dealing with heart-breaking sorrow. It’s my favorite of his books.

Island of the World by Michael O’Brien is a beautiful and tragic book about great loss with healing through faith. This is such a difficult book to read that I had to put it down for a long time before I felt strong enough to tackle it again. There are many, many things I could say about its value, not the least of which is that it gives us a new understanding for the suffering experienced by the people in Croatia. Although we can’t begin to understand why anyone must suffer so much, it shows that God can heal even the most broken people and use them to help heal others.

Book Clubs

If you want to do more to light the fires of your imagination, you might want to consider starting a book club. That would be a great way to read regularly and have the opportunity to discuss what you’ve read with others.

Most book clubs set up a schedule that designates which book members of the group will read before each meeting, generally once per month, and determine a leader to facilitate each discussion. It’s helpful to set up a schedule of books and leaders before beginning to meet for a season. This way the meeting times can focus on book discussion and don’t have to be wasted on working out logistical details. You can have refreshments or you don’t have to bother. You can meet in each other’s homes or at a public place that is convenient for the group members.

I found a couple of sites that appear to have helpful information about beginning a reading group: http://book-clubs.suite101.com/article.cfm/starting_a_book_club

A book club is a great way to discuss the books you’re reading with other people and learn more about becoming discerning readers.

Thanks for reading!


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