Friday, February 15, 2013

Free to Read - Session #2

Feb. 14, 2013 Session 2 – Words, Words, Words: Many of us are accustomed to evaluating a novel based on what it says. This session will emphasize, instead, the value of how a book says what it says. For a novel to be useful to Christian readers, it must be full of literary beauty, and thus we will consider how to recognize and respond to such beauty. Required reading: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Dr. Smid challengd us to rethink the way we understand  "beauty" in novels.
Some thoughts she shared with us:

  • a novel can instruct (content) and delight (beauty)... these aspects are equally important
  • the pursuit of beauty is a Christian obligation, not an option
  • The Bible shows us a connect between beauty and holiness (for example, the adornment of the tabernacle, temple, creation, the description of the new Jerusalem)
  • adult novels and children's novels must be held to the same high standard of beauty
  • reading is a moral act; any beauty that we can create is a gift from our Creator God
  • a Christian message or moral cannot redeem a text marred by shoddy workmanship; both craftsmanship and morality are necessary
How then can we identify beautiful writing? Dr Smid shared some characteristics of a poorly written novel and some hilarious examples from real texts.
  • didacticism - preachy, moral bludgeoning
  • sentimentality - sweet, syrupy and condescending
  • sensationalism - focus on the thrill/scare; dulls reader to real pain/emotion
  • stilted dialogue - choppy and unbeliveable
  • cliches - overused and unoriginal
  • weak metaphors - distract us from the point of the text
  • stilted choppy language - boring sentences that put you to sleep
  • unbelievable characters - can be unbelievably good or evil; not someone that you feel like you know
  • dullness - when we're bored, we will disengage and then quit reading
A well written novel will contain many of these things:
  • believable characters, and at least one character the reader is rooting for
  • believable dialogue - could you imagine this conversation really taking place?
  • apt, fresh metaphors - could surprise us into thinking about something familiar in a new way
  • excellent diciton - ie. word choice
  • symbolism - something that represents something more/greater; subtly done
  • allusions - direct or indirect references to knowledge beyond the text; depends upon the reader's own understanding
  • plot complexity - story could be told in a complex way: not linear progression, multiple points of view, etc
  • suspense - a genuine sense of anticipation for what's going to happen
  • trust the reader - gives the reader some credit for intelligence and allows them to invest themselves in the story
After the main lecture, we broke up into groups again to discuss three pairs of exerpts to see which one we felt had greater beauty.  In many groups, the readers were quite divided.  This showed us that to some extent, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Our preference for a certain style of writing is affected by:
- our own life experience
- our exposure to other writing
- our personal preferences

This makes it difficult to say definitively which texts are well written and which ones are poorly written.  Some chatting after the lecture, revealed that although Dr Smid used Harry Potter as an example of "beautiful" writing, some readers were still not convinced.  Could the writing still be beautiful if you object to the morality of the content?  Again - a though-provoking evening!

Thoughts?  Comments?


  1. Thanks Tessa! I love Harry Potter so too me I think it is "beautiful" writing:)
    I am not surprised to hear that there was mixed feelings about the book. Love that we are all so different and things in our own life affects our reading choices. Tanya and I were at a cooking class last night and there was a group of ladies there who were all from a book club. Very cool...might be a neat idea to do together for a december book club:) We could read a book on Culinary arts and then go as a "field trip"!

  2. I appreciate being able to follow these summaries of the lecture. Perhaps we should invite her out West sometime to do a similar talk. Who is this Dr. Smid, btw?


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