Monday, January 15, 2007

Life-changing books

I found much to disagree with in this provocative article posted yesterday at (The London) Times Online. Those of you who read literary fiction will probably have strong opinions about whether or not modern literary novels have lost their power to challenge minds, but I don't want to get into that because clever people will swarm over here to debate the subject and it will quickly become clear to everyone that (1) I read precious few literary novels, and (2) I'm not as smart as I like to pretend on this blog.

I read a lot of romance novels, though, so I feel confident talking about those.

Much has been said about romance novels "empowering" women. I believe they can and do. Female readers tend to identify with the fictional heroines in romance novels, closely observing how those women handle the challenges in their lives and go after what they want. There are subliminal messages in every book: be who you are, let yourself love, and so on. At some point, the romance reader will internalize those lessons; and when attitudes change, actions tend to follow. So even when authors have no conscious intent to change readers' lives, it can happen. Even though we readers select novels for entertainment rather than for instruction on living fuller, better lives, we are often deeply affected by the stories we read.

If that's true, then inspirational (Christian) romance novels must be exceedingly powerful, because those authors are trying to teach life-lessons. In each inspirational romance, both the hero and heroine, in addition to struggling through the kinds of internal (emotional) and external (situational) conflicts found in secular romances, must also undertake a spiritual journey. An author simply can't conceive and write about those spiritual journeys without having a message in mind: this is good, that is wrong, here's the way it should be. So inspirational novels are never just simple entertainment.

Inspy readers love the wholesome stories offered by Christian romance publishers because they can read those books without fear that their conservative values might be riduculed and undermined. That isn't to say they're reading for spiritual instruction; there are plenty of nonfiction books in the Christian market to satisfy those needs. Like every other romance reader, inspy readers just want to be entertained; but like every other romance reader, they'll be affected on some level by the messages contained in the novels they read. Inspy readers are well aware of that, and that's why some of them will read only inspirational romances.

I can't tell you how many letters and e-mails we inspy authors get from people who insist that reading our books changed their lives. That kind of thing can go to an author's head, tempting her to believe she's uncommonly wise. But it's not that we're so clever, necessarily; it's that novels are an incredibly powerful medium to begin with. In order to enjoy a novel, a reader must step into the protagonist's shoes. Get inside her mind--or the mind of the author who created her.

I'm not talking about my talent as an author but the power of the medium and in particular, the subgenre of inspirational romance when I say I'm profoundly aware that reading one of my books might change your life. In fact, my constant prayer is that I won't mislead anyone, but will correctly present God's truth in my books.

If any of you feel inclined to pray about that, I'll take all the help I can get.

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cantnever said...

I'm delighted to read your comments on this topic. I do so agree that novels (fiction in any form actually) DO affect the reader. Isn't it wonderful? God can use this gift so powerfully sometimes it boggles the mind of the one who wrote it. Yes, I will make it a matter of prayer on your behalf.

With Hammer And Tong...The LetterShaper said...

As a poet, and an avid reader, I have to say that I very much enjoyed my leisurely stroll through your was time well spent; entertaining and enlightening. I thank you...

Brenda Coulter said...

Thank you. It was very kind of you to leave a note here.

Cantnever, your prayers are very much appreciated.