For a blogger who reblogs a couple of posts a year about the value of reading fiction, especially if you are a pastor, I am notoriously behind on my bucket list of great fiction.
That just means I don’t live up to my own hype. It doesn’t contradict the idea that it is important to read fiction, especially the classics (of yesterday *and* today).
There have been some objections I have heard over the years to reading fiction. They tend to cluster by personality type and personal preference, not by theological argument (although some clever folks have actually learned to cloak their personal preference for factual material in theological terms so they can stick to factual material *and* play a holier- than-thou game at the same time! . . .).
Hence a discussion of a few (hopefully not too random) points:
1) If I want to have any chance at all of becoming a good writer, I need to read the works of great writers. Great fiction is magic with words. Drinking deeply at that fountain conveys more about writing technique to people who wish to write than forty years of composition classes could do.
2) The same for those who speak for a living (pastors). Transform your language. Read fiction. You will see that it is possible to both control your words and let God breathe life into them at the exact same moment.
3) No one lifetime contains sufficient illustrations for every possible sermon topic (or classroom session, for those of us who teach). Reading gives us more examples we can use in our practical applications. Great fiction has more “bang for the buck” in the area of rich examples than any other source. There is a reason it has become and stayed great! It is universal.
4) Since great fiction *is* universal, it will resonate with congregation members (or people in my classroom) and will help us relate to them and build relationships. Reading fiction is a healthy interest to share, both with other Christians and with non-believers.
5) Reading fiction presents us with universal themes that occur over and over in life. For those of us who are Baby Boomers, we were taught to read through the filter of these universal themes. Millennials are more encouraged to approach books in an open way and let them speak to you as though they were the first book you ever read. Either of these approaches is fine. Just read, read, read.
As an example, we Boomers will speak of the literary tradition of “the Christ figure.” It is the person in certain stories who is too innocent and pure for his society and who ends up being martyred as a result. Don Quijote is one. So is Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot. The protagonist of A Tale of Two Cities is one. Jean Valjean in Les Miserables is one, too. And those last two works fit together like bookends, both viewing the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, one from a French perspective and one from an English perspective.
Have I convinced you yet? Read fiction. Join me. I need to read more fiction!