I love to read. I understand that not everyone loves to read, but I want to make an appeal that more of us make reading a regular part of our lives. Reading engages our God-given minds and bodies in a way that is different than when we watch movies or television shows. Not everyone needs to be an avid reader, but I suggest that each of us takes the time to read a little more.
And I want to suggest that we not only take the time to read good non-fiction, but also good fiction. Before sharing five suggestions for fiction reading, let me share two reasons why it is good for Christians to read fiction. (1) Reading fiction is good because it allows us to engage with ideas in a unique way. Most of us are more impacted by stories than by propositional statements. We find To Kill a Mockingbird more moving than someone saying, “You shouldn’t be prejudiced.” (2) Reading fiction gives us the experience of the highs and lows of a story. This is good because it reminds us that we as Christians believe that we are in the middle of a story that God is telling (a story that culminates with Jesus being crowned king and this cursed world being redeemed). When you’re in the middle of a good book, you are not overly troubled when things are going poorly. You know there is more to the story. When we have this experience through reading, I believe that this is helpful preparation for responding well when things in our lives don’t go according to plan.
With that said, here are five novels that I find myself reading again and again. Take them as suggestions for some good summer reading.
The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis. The premise of this book is a busload of passengers in hell who get to visit heaven. If you engage with the story, you find that it is less about Lewis presenting a detailed view of heaven and hell, and more about Lewis presenting the kinds of choices that lead us toward God or away from him. The relatively-short novel walks through a series of conversations that are striking both emotionally and intellectually. It is a quick read that is worth your time.
Peace Like a River by Lief Enger. This is the most recently-written book on my list. Enger’s novel is the story of several members of family who on the one hand are on an adventure, and on the other hand are dealing with tragedy and difficulty in different ways. It is a character-driven story that is beautiful and engaging. It is Christian literature in a broad thematic sense, and it deals with rich themes concerning suffering, sacrifice, and redemption.
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. This is my favorite novel of all time. I must have read it over a dozen times. On the surface, this is a story about a police officer who goes under cover to infiltrate an anarchist society. In a deeper way, however, it is a story about God’s role in human suffering. It is at once moving, brilliant, and hysterical. It is worth your time.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This is the only book on this list that is clearly not written from a Christian perspective. Fitzgerald’s book is really about longing and the emptiness of the dreams that we build up in our heads. If you read this in high school, it is time to give it another read. The story is insightful about human beings and what drives us to make the (sometimes destructive) decisions we make.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This is another book that you may have read in high school. If you did, read it again because you will be able to engage with the themes in a different way as an adult. Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist, tells the story of a man who attempts to conquer his conscience with his reason. It involves murder, betrayal, and hope. It is a brilliant, brutal book. It is the most challenging of the five books that I have recommended, but it is a classic for a reason. Take the time to read through; you will be glad you did.
While not everyone needs to devour books on a weekly basis, take some time to shut off the noise and the screens (other than your kindle) and do some reading this summer. As you do, take time to remember that you are in the middle of a story that God is telling and that, while not all the stops along the way are pleasant, the ending is better than anyone could ever imagine.