Friday, February 24, 2012
Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books
Lit! is a terrific introduction to what it means to read as a Christian, from a Christian worldview; Reinke covers why we, as Christians, should be readers, how we should read, and what we should read. He covers a lot of ground succinctly (less than 200 pages) and includes both theoretical and practical information. This book, in particular, is a good introduction to a Reformed worldview, to the idea that the gospel is both central to our existence and informs everything we do, that common grace insights can be found in many places, and to a basic understanding of Christianity and the arts. If you are already familiar with the ideas of thinkers such as Neil Postman, James Sire, C. S. Lewis, Puritan theologians such as John Owen, Reformation "greats" such as Calvin and Luther, and are widely read in the more well known creative authors in Christendom (Tolkien, Lewis, John Donne, Dostoevsky, Flannery O'Connor, etc.), then this book will be a refresher course. If most of what I've just discussed in this first paragraph sounds like Greek to you, I highly recommend this book.
One of the things I appreciate most about this book is its approachability for the "layman"--the person who thinks that reading is probably a good idea, but hasn't read much or widely (yet), the person who isn't very familiar with literary criticism, the person who really has never thought about what it means to read from a Christian worldview.
I also was delighted with Reinke's thorough presentation of the gospel and his reminders throughout the book that we must be reading in light of the gospel and be informed by the gospel--first and foremost--before we can truly think about and interact with the literary texts before us. He comes back to Scripture and the traditions of Christian history throughout the book, providing credibility for his assertions.
Reinke is not one of those Christians who urges us to read only "Christian" books; far from it. He offered a good, albeit brief, discussion of different types of genres, what we may gain from them (both Christian and secular), and alluded to the fact that some "Christian" works may, in fact, be more damaging than secular--our blinders are not up.
Reinke offers good counsel on evaluating books (both Christian and secular, fiction and nonfiction) in light of the gospel and a Christian worldview. He discusses the priority of text and the Word, what books Christians should be reading, the priorities we should have when we look at the wide expanse of published material, the strategies we can employ to make the most of our reading, the priority of text over image, our responsibility as parents to encourage reading in the next generation, and the distractions of our modern digital age. He highlights the importance of reading intentionally, critically, and actively--as well as how difficult this is sometimes! Reinke also made an excellent point about timing: sometimes, it's not so much that the book is "bad" or "wrong," but that the timing for that particular reader might not be the best.
I thought his (brief) analysis of Revelation was interesting; I had never thought of Revelation as fantastic literature (fantastic in the sense of "fantasy" not as "terrific") before. I also thought his insistence that we be readers over and above images, while good, a touch heavy handed. We are a privileged society in that most Americans have the opportunity to learn to read and have access (through libraries and other sources) to books; this is not true in much of the world. It behooves us, as Christians, if we agree with Reinke's emphasis on the paramount importance of reading, to be doing what we can to teach others to read and to make sure that all have access to books.
All in all, this is an eminently readable exploration of why Christians should be reading, what we should be reading, and how we should be reading in light the gospel and the Word. It is also one of the few books that I will be buying! (most of the time, one read through is enough for me; this time, however, I bookmarked quite a few pages that I would like to revisit.)
I read Lit! as an advance review copy via netgalley; there were a few minor typos and grammatical errors. I don't know if I was reading the final copy or not. I tell you this primarily to say that the quotations I offer below may or may not appear exactly the same in the printed work. Still, they will serve as a great primer on Reinke's style and emphases. (Cover image from goodreads)
p. 45: "Both language and visual images are valuable. The concern is whether Christians (like us) will be patient enough to find meaning embedded in words, or if we will grow content with the superficial pleasures offered to us in the rapidly shifting images in our culture."
p. 53: "But stories do more than entertain and inspire us. Stories make claims about the world in which we live. Stories can also inform the mind and edify the soul. If we have the right story, we can learn a lot about our world, our problems, and even ourselves."
p. 61-2: "Novelists animate a worldview by placing it within a depiction of life. Literature gives a worldview arms, legs, ears, hand, and mouths."
p. 63: "Choosing what books to read is often not a yes/no decision but a now/later decision."
p. 91: "To view imaginative literature [such as fantasy] as a genre fit only for the amusement of children is an act of spiritual negligence."
p. 126: "...the appearance of sin in a book does not mean the author is approving of sin.... To some degree, the author must paint a picture of the wretchedness of sin in order for grace to emerge in its brilliance. Thus, grace-filled literature is often not 'clean' literature. In fact, God's redemptive grace is hard to capture in 'clean' fiction.... Grace-filled literature grows out of the soil of a sinful world."
p. 147: (about the modern, digital-world tendency to react to news/information/ideas rather than to reflect first) "I am quick to Tweet and slow to think."