(Warning: long article. Bear with me)
(Titian’s Crucifixion. Photo credit)
I was completely unaware of “Christian fiction” before I started blogging. I want to talk a bit about this genre, it being Good Friday/Day 5 of Passover, and some underhanded publisher behaviour in relation to the genre. Before I get going, some full disclosure (because I think it’s important to set out any biases I may have): I’m baptised, confirmed and married in the Roman Catholic Church, and make an effort to get to Mass every Sunday. I don’t like talking about my faith, and other people talking to me about theirs often makes me uncomfortable – so I am not opening the floor for religious debate today!
Wikipedia (what did we do before Wikipedia??) gives me some thoughts on Christian fiction: it states “Christian themes are not always explicit” and lists C. S. Lewis (presumably for the Narnia series – although I haven’t read any other of his works) as a writer of Christian fiction, as does this article to G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown novels, which are primarily considered to be detective fiction, even though the main character is a Catholic priest (I must read these!). Wikipedia also touches on whether the works of a Christian author are necessarily Christian fiction – e.g. J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings (which I have continued to avoid reading nicely into my twenties so far…) in which “while there are undoubted Christian themes… many might not consider this to be a work of Christian fiction”..
I would add Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre to those grand works of fiction with strong Christian themes and morals – Jane doesn’t marry Rochester specifically because it would go against God’s law preventing bigamy; the human disapproval is secondary for her. However, I would say that Jane Eyre is about much more that Jane’s faith – while it is a recurring theme, the book does not revolve around it. I can’t think of any of this sort of Christian novel in which I have found the faith aspect intrusive – on the whole it appeals to me because adherence to a faith usually requires adherence to a strict moral code, and generally I like to see my protagonists behaving themselves well (every once in a while, anyway), although of course faith is not a necessary (or necessarily sufficient) pre-requisite for good behaviour.
Moving on to Wikipedia’s writings on modern American Christian novels:
“In the last few decades the existence of a conservative Christian subculture, particularly in North America, has given rise to a specific genre of Christian novel. Books … combining a specific brand of conservative Christian theology with a popular romance or thriller form, have gained approval in the subculture…. A novel can be Christian in this sense merely because one of its characters either comes to a proper understanding of God and of man’s need for salvation from sin, or faces a crisis of his or her faith.”
Based on my short experience with this genre, I find it is not to my tastes (more on that later), but I can understand that there is quite a market for it:
– there is little or no sexual content, bad language and violence is only committed by bad guys
– references are to a specific way of life which is familiar or interesting to the reader
– reading about fictitious crises of faith can help a reader contemplate their own faith
There are a number of bloggers who review a lot of this modern Christian fiction – Sherry at Semicolon and My Friend Amy are just two that I am aware of – and I would like to make it very clear that I am not disputing the validity of this genre, just stating that I don’t enjoy those books.
However, what prompted me to write this (now rather long) post was what I see as some rather sneaky behaviour by a publisher. I participate in LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program and in November and December I requested the following books – descriptions are as they appeared on the Early Reviewers site:
“… in Your book all my days were recorded, even those which were purposed before they had come into being.” —Psalm 139:16
Young Cameron Vaux’s mind is slipping. Memories of his wife, killed two years earlier in a car accident, are vanishing just as his dad predicted they would. Memories he knows he has to remember.
His father tells Cameron that to save his mind he must find “the book with all days in it” —the past and future record of every soul on earth.
When an obscure clue leads Cameron to a small central Oregon town, he meets enigmatic Taylor Stone, a possible guide to finding the book who seems to carry secrets far deeper than anyone imagines. Local hotshot TV personality Ann Bannister thinks the legend of the book is a farce, but she has her reasons to join Cameron’s search anyway. Finally, there is fanatical New Age guru Jason Judah, who will stop at nothing to find the book of days before Cameron does.
A young widow and her physically challenged daughter survive a plane crash in the Alaskan mountains but must puzzle together how it relates to the recent death of their husband and father. Written by a mother and her teenage daughter whose rare medical condition led to their family’s story being shared with millions on the hit ABC television program Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. Elements of their real-life story are worked into this exciting novel.
These both sounded like my kind of book; the former like a Clive Cussler or similar adventure (of which I read quite a lot), and the latter a similar thriller/adventure style. While Book of Days clearly had some Bible inspiration, there are a number of very successful thrillers with Biblical themes that are not “Christian fiction” – The Da Vinci Code, anyone? And I expected it to be like The Navigator, which features the Ark of the Covenant.
When Book of Days arrived, I noticed that above the barcode was written “FICTION/Christian/Adventure”. Perplexed, I checked the Early Reviewers description. Never mind, I though, one should try everything once, and settled down with it. I forced myself to the 100-page mark where I gave up in a puff of disgust at the atrocious writing (see my review for full outrage quotient) and while I had been a bit put off by the strong faith tinge – the protagonist was constantly thinking about God, or praying – I couldn’t really draw a conclusion on what I thought about Christian fiction because the writing was just too terrible.
When No Safe Haven arrived, I was really disappointed to notice that it was from the same publisher (B&H Publishing Group) and once again there was that “FICTION/Christian/Adventure” above the barcode. I’m about 60 pages in and am faring a lot better – the writing is of a higher quality (although not even close to the high quality language in which I’ve been revelling recently).
Anyway, what has annoyed me is that this publisher has twice snuck a work of fiction with a very strong religious bent into reviewers’ hands with no warning. The program obliges me to review the books and therefore to read them – so in requesting what I thought were adventure novels I have unwittingly committed myself to at least 100 pages per religious tract. Quite frankly, I consider this dishonest behaviour, almost false advertising. The only reason not to advertise the genre in the promotional paragraph is that the publisher wishes it to land in “unconverted” hands and thus a promotional mechanism for a novel becomes a vehicle for proselytising.
I will now be checking the publisher name very carefully before I request any more ARCs!
Has this happened to anyone else out there? What do you think of it when it does happen? What do you think about the two categories of Christian fiction?
(and this post is now at 1,360 words. My apologies and thanks for sticking it out to the end!)