Sunday, November 15, 2009

Warning: Christian Fiction Ahead!

My Friend Amy's Faith 'n' Fiction Saturday asks, "Do you 'warn' people about Christian Fiction?" I've read her post and the comments and it got me thinking. (Obviously, or I wouldn't be posting!)

My various thoughts, in no particular order.

"Christian Fiction" means, to me, fiction by Christian publishing houses, rather than fiction that happens to include characters (or themes or plots) who are Christian.

As a Catholic, my back gets up at the idea that I'm not Christian. Yet, because "Christian Fiction" often means Protestant Fiction (and sometimes Evangelical Protestant Fiction), I am indeed "not a Christian." (I believe that Mormons encounter the same issue).

I've read, and enjoyed, fiction published by religious publishers, including Christian and Jewish Fiction. A good book is a good book is a good book; and I like reading books that are "windows" into worlds outside my own.

As a reader, I want to know ahead of time if the book is actually a tool for conversion. There are enough good Christian Fiction books that don't ask whether Jesus is my personal saviour, that I can self-select out of reading those books. In all honesty, if the point of the book is not telling a good story but changing the reader, chances are it isn't that great a book because it let the message trump the storytelling. But, on the other hand, a good review could point that out, but review the book in such a way that I want to read it anyway.

I want to be told if the book includes anything that is anti-Catholic. Though I cannot imagine anyone, knowing my religion, would seriously recommend such a book to me. But for a blog post? I guess if a book was that offensive to me (i.e., the usual, we worship the Devil, Catholics: they're doing it wrong, it doesn't take much expertise with Google to find the sites because I refuse to link to them), and I read it, and went back and saw that the original blog didn't talk about it or downplayed it, I would assume it's because the blogger agreed with that. And I'd know not to trust those reviews for me because our world view is different. This is different than a character being anti-Catholic, which happens in books (and real life). So, again, this wouldn't be a total book-killer; it would depend on the book.

The use of a different Bible for quotations doesn't bother me, so I don't need that pointed out in a review. It's often in the front of the book, so I'll know from the start which Bible is being used.

As a librarian, I like when library catalogs clearly indicate the publisher and accurately use cataloging to indicate the difference between a book that is about Christians or Christianity versus a book that is Christian Fiction. Because if a person wants a book that is indeed Christian Fiction, they should be able to get that instead of a book where the person starts out as Christian and the point of the story is the realization that religion is wrong and bad.

One big problem, though, is that sometimes people read for different things and we have to be a bit understanding about that! A quick reference that I pick up as anti-Catholic may not even be noticed by someone else; just as I may not notice something about a book but another reader may.

And at the end of the day --- a good book is a good book is a good book. And I want to know about good books!

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© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy


Anonymous said...

I occasionally read Christian fiction, but I have to be in the mood for it. I like some YA Christian fiction very much. But if the book doesn't at least hint about it being religous and I start reading it only to find it preachy or too morally uptight I will put it aside or get rid of it in favor of something else.
If I am going to read religious books I prefer biography books on people like Mother Teresa or a martyr.

tanita✿davis said...

I've never actually written anything out in a review as a "warning, Christian content," thing, but I guess someone might feel it was necessary, in the same way that people warn about "Spoilers," if they knew their readers were decidedly anti-religious.

That was certainly ...unusual to see religious content listed as a warning, like it was swearing in rap music. Makes me kind of smile.

I don't seek out "Christian" fiction, (although I find I am very fond of Eerdman's, because they publish Nikki Giovanni). I find it's nicer to run across a regular book which involves characters who hold a faith perspective (my fave this year was Does My Head Look Big In This? which is ...decidedly Muslim, and remains a most spiritual and thought-provoking read) or read books by a known Christian author (example: Sara Zarr). That way, I'm choosing to read based on the writer, not based on the Christian "stamp" the publishing house puts on the work - which doesn't always match what I feel comfortable reading.

Man, this was a good question.

Amy said...

Thanks for answering Liz!!!! I really appreciate what you say about wanting to know if something is anti-Catholic...recently I've actually realized that any faith system (Jews, Muslims, etc.) being trashed or treated as wrong really gets to me. And I definitely notice these things in books, and am perhaps more sensitive to that than some other people might be.

Also agreed that Christian fiction refers to books by Christian publishing houses, though everyone has their own opinion about that. But you laid that out really clearly.

And for what it's worth, I am from an evangelical background, but I'm sorry for all the times we've acted like we know it all and said Catholics aren't Christians. That's not my perspective but I definitely am aware that mindset exists.

Liz B said...

Ms Moonlight: preachy can be anywhere. that's what i call where the "message" trumps the storytelling & hurts the story.

Tanita, the idea of "warning" bothers me. and ultimately, you can tell a book by its cover (the publishing house, the description, etc.) Don't really need much more of a warning than that; much like if a book is for teens, it'll have more mature content than a book for tweens.

Amy, the main reason I see a "difference" in terms of publishing is more to give the reader who wants, well, Christian fiction the book they want rather than a book that happens to have Christianity in it (and not necessarily in a positive way). It's been a while since I played around with card catalogs, but its rather interesting to see the types of things labeled religious fiction that IMHO aren't.

Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed this thoughtful discussion. Good literature cannot proselytise but it must show the world as it is with great honesty and insight and have something univesally meaningful to say about it. I don't mean to exclude fantastic literature, either, which does the same thing by creating an alternate world. For anyone interested in fiction with this intent, coming from Christian values but in touch with all good literature, see my new release, Angela 1: Starting Over. To find out more, click on my name and follow the link to my website. And keep up this discussion. There is to little honest and thoughtful discussion out there.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your bringing this up as a fellow Catholic: it's a very AWKWARD label, "Christian Fiction." I personally feel strange when I look at preschools that advertise being "Christian" and I wonder, is that a preschool like the one I went to, that was run by a church, or is that a school that thinks my son-- and I-- is Not a Christian because we're not THEIR sort of Christian? It bothers me that I HAVE to worry about that label!

Which means I'm glad you define the use of the label to mean "books published by specifically Christian publishers." Otherwise, there's so much room for interpretation. If asked to name Christian writers whose faith had a strong influence on their work, the first people I think of are Madeleine L'Engle and C.S. Lewis, and yet they're mainstream, and some of the people looking for "Christian Fiction" might even be offended by their books!

As for warning someone that something is "Christian Fiction"? Well, you'd have to warn people about EVERYTHING, then, just in case something in a book might offend someone somewhere. Better just to explain what the book's about, and if the religious influence is that important to the plot, it will come out in the description. And if the book is overtly preachy, it's probably not worth recommending, anyway!

Jennifer Taylor said...

Your post was very insightful. I come from a Protestant background and I am also an historical Christian fiction author. Since I have so many Catholic friends who I consider Christian, and I've been to their Catholic churches I hope I haven't written anything that would indicate Catholics are anti-Christian. Christian editors tell authors that they want our work to be from a "Christian world-view" and that it shouldn't contain specific doctrines, b/c even Protestants can argue over doctrine amongst themselves. It should be an uplifting, inspirational message. Some will be conversion stories, but most inspire a person's faith to be stronger in our life walk with God.

Bibliovore said...

Interesting. I didn't know I worshipped the devil.

Seriously, great post. I like books that bring religion--all kinds--into the conversation, but I avoid Christian Fiction because it tends to proselytize rather than tell the freakin' story already.

What I'd really like to see is more Muslim fiction out there. You mentioned Christian fiction and I've read a lot of books with Catholic/Christian and Jewish themes. But I have to say I've only read two books that included Islam in any meaningful way.

I also like it when faith and religion are included but not the central theme. Faith can be a bedrock for the things that happen in your life and not have to be the mountain towering over it all.

Anonymous said...

you want to know about a good book? Let Slip the Dogs of Love (Suburban Legends of the Living and the Dead), by Eugene Kachmarsky. love, hate, murder, incest, assassination, resistance, the power and magic of innocence, time travel, transdimensional beings, the ultimate struggle between good and evil seen through the eyes of a youth ... all in a quiet, sleepy, suburban neighborhood near you.

now you can't say you didn't know!

RAnn said...

Just found this post. I generally let people know about the Christian content of novels I review with an eye toward letting people of various types know what they are getting--a sermon disguised as a story, a story about people who happen to be Christian or somewhere in between.