So...what fiction books with faith elements are on your keeper shelf?
Last year Christian Fiction Blog shared over one hundred titles with you, but read at least three hundred books outside of the books I review for Romantic Times Magazine and for some book awards judging projects I participated in. As we speak I'm in a heavy reviewing period, so when I received today's question I almost cringed. I've been reviewing commercial fiction since 2002 and literary for a decade before that. How in the world am I going to decide on five books that are must haves on my book shelf. It's very simple, and if you're a subscriber of CB you won't be surprised by my answers.
- France Ellen Harper's Iola Leroy. It is the first published Christian novel written by an African American Woman(1892.) It does what few Christian novels do now. Iola Leroy express in both theme and tone the issues that affected early 19th Century American life: Jim Crowism, slavery, women's suffrage, family responsibility, Reconstruction, and faith. Moreover the characters in this story are heavy and weighted in realism. Oftentimes I read newer faith based novels whereby the writer has watered down human reaction to a scene or a natural human response to a dilemma, in order to placate a general Christian audience. What Harper does is tell the world what she sees and feels and leaves the burden of how she will be perceived on the cross that Christ carried for us.
- Toni Morrison's Beloved(1987.) Again this novel's is set during Jim Crow/Reconstruction. What makes it equally poignant, but vastly different from Harper is (1) it was written by an author 100 years later and (2) the issues Morrison addresses were still issues affecting people of faith in America 100 years later. Beloved exposes, brutally and beautifully what happens to a heartbroken soul. Her introduction of black spiritualism, womanism, and Christianity turned this classic horror into a magical fable, a cautionary tale for Christians who lose their faith to unexplained tragedy.
- Marilyn Robinson's Gilead (2004.) Because I read so many commercial fiction stories it is always a thrill to read a book that makes you slow down and drink in every page. Reading Gilead felt like engaging in prayer. This fictional memoir of a 76 year old pastor in Gilead, Ohio is more than just a summation of letters to his young son for us to peak at as voyeurs, but it's a Reading Selah. This novel makes you read, then stop, breathe, praise, and read some more. There's something Gifted about it.
- Tolkiens, The Lord of the Rings (1937.) I fell in love with this series when I was a child. I was introduced to Tolkien after reading The Hobbit, then The Lord of the Rings took my imagination away with me. This story is the story of the power of the human condition, what makes us glorius and tragic and oh so beautiful to God at the same time. I never grow tired of this book or watching the cinematic versions of the trilogies. And yes I possess the power of the ring. lol.
- Claudy Burney's Zora & Nicky(2008.) This modernized/christianized version of Romeo & Juliette is one of my best finds last year(sidebar note: do you want to know my top picks of 2008? is it too late?) Burney's prose is reminscent to Ron Hansen(the Assassination of Jesse James,) Terry McMillan(Disappearing Acts,) and Gayle Jones(Eva's Man.) There is a sass in her female characters that makes me root for whatever cause--be it wrong or right. What I love the most about this novel is how Burney took the first kiss scene and paralleled it to Song of Solomon and teen angst at the same time. That scene had a perfect balance of what contemporary fiction should feel like and what christian fiction is on the verge of becoming.