Dr. Smid gave an excellent introduction on the value of novels in this first session. It was encouraging to hear that reading novels should be an experience of learning, but also delight!
Two books that she referred to fairly extensively are:
- Literature through the Eyes of Faith by Susan Gallagher and Roger Lundin
- Triumphs of the Imagination: Literature in Christian Perspective by Leland Ryken
Here are some throughts that she shared with us:
Literature has value:
- in providing us with a new experience
- in illuminating the universal human experience
- in providing enjoyment
- in aiding us to understand the human experience
- in reaffirming the uniqueness of man (that's man as opposed to animal; not man as opposed to woman)
She introduced two key terms to help us discern:
- useful literature... broadens our vision and increases our understanding; can depict sin but does not glorify it. I thought here of our recent book, A Long Way Gone. There was horrifying sinful lives and actions in this book - but the author wanted us to be horrified! We can read about the brokenness of Sierra Leonne and mourn it rather than imitate it.
- obscene literature... depicts sin in order to encourage it's practice or glorify it's existance. I thought here of the divorce in Sarah's Key. I think that you could argue that this aspect of the book was obscene - the author wanted us to cheer for Julia in escaping her marriage and provided justifications to make this situation seem ideal. Then the author provides Julia with "rewards" in terms of a child and the potential for a happy new relationship. (ps. I'm not saying Sarah's Key is obscene literature as it certainly fulfuls some of the above values; I'm just using this aspect of the book as an example as it was the first thing that popped into my mind during Dr. Smid's lecture last night.)
Dr. Smid also made several points that we have found to be true in book club:
- every novel calls for a reaction; does the book want us to laugh? cry? feel pity? disgust? does the book call us to social action? does the book want us to choose sides on an issue?
- the ultimate responsibility in reading lies with the reader; there is no entirely "safe" literature
- we need to read with faith, not fear. No one book can overshadow a strong faith.
- we ought to read widely to experience a wide range of human experience. Knowing our "neighbour" is essential to practicing Christian love and charity
We ended the session with about 1/2 an hour of small group discussion and two of the three questions were particularly relevant to our book club situation, so I will replicate them for your consideration:
- A friend loans you her favorite book: "It's the best book I've ever read," she tells you. When you begin to read the book, however, you are horrified to discover that it is full of profanity, selfishness, and sinful behavior. Do you continue to read the book, hoping to find out why your friend loves the book so much? Do you continue to read so that you can tell your friend in detail why you didn't like the book? Do you stop reading and return the book to your friend?
- Are certain sins never acceptable in a novel? For example, is profanity in a novel ever useful?
* Note that this is not a complete summary of last night's session- just the points that I thought would be most relevant to all of us. :-)