Tuesday, 19 December 2017
That s/he who runs may read
What are you reading? Me, I've just finished Elena Ferrante's vivid My Brilliant Friend (my book group book this month) and am about to go back for the third instalment of Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy, which so powerfully evokes the atmosphere of a vulnerable European country in the early stages of World War II. In between, I'm dipping into Simon Jenkins' hilarious Jumble Sales of the Apocalypse and reading Tanya Marlow's thoughtful Those who wait as an Advent book, although I'm a week behind. I also have a couple of less inspiring books that I've got stuck on half way through.
Facebook permitting, I always seem to have two or three books on the go - a habit since I was a child and borrowed at least four books from the library every week. I'm afraid I'm now an Oxfam bookshop person, not to mention the hospital bookstall, which I visit on every appointment, and where one can get the most surprising volumes (Richard Rohr or Dallas Willard, anyone?) for a mere quid.
Theological/spiritual reading is always apposite, but I'm worried by the seemingly increasing number of Christians (and yes, like us writers, they are mostly women) who apparently want to read only wholesome, 'improving' Christian fiction, lest they inadvertently stumble across some rude words or sex and violence (there's none of that in the Bible, no siree...). Now I'm not averse to the odd Amish bonnet-ripper myself (not that any bonnets ever get ripped). But what is the point of confining ourselves to literature (and I use the word loosely) that only reinforces our own world view, and never challenges or educates us about the rest of the world? How will we write what the world wants to read, if we never read what the world reads?
I accept that for those who themselves write 'Christian fiction' (and the definition of that is much disputed - is Graham Greene, or Evelyn Waugh, Christian fiction?) it might be important to keep up to date with what else is happening in their particular field. For the rest of us, however, surely it's more important to read what the great unwashed are reading - well, not Dan Brown perhaps, that can only be a waste of time - but Anne Tyler and Kate Atkinson and John Grisham and Ian McEwan and a hundred other Booker contenders?
I once read the fascinating diaries of A J Munby, a Victorian civil servant (and ancestor of an ex-boyfriend from long ago), who saw everything and did everything that was on offer in Victorian public life. One passage I always remember from his well written records is this:
At the breakfast was an ancient Vicar, who was interesting as a specimen of the fast failing school of 'Evangelical' clergymen [how things have changed!]... men who clung to and preached a few strong and effective tenets, and under the honest pretext of 'knowing Christ alone', remained ignorant of most other things.
Let something similar never be said of us.
Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently playing at being a high Anglican. She also blogs (rather occasionally!) at reversedstandard.com