After all, I liked Christian music, Christian t-shirts, Christian posters... but the favourite thing in my life, reading, didn't have anything Christian that I liked to plug into it. For years, I wondered what was wrong with me. And I have finally found the problem:
I've returned to Christian fiction with adult eyes, and have attempted to read pretty much every Christian author I have heard of, and certainly the ones who have been recommended to me. I say "attempted" because I have abandoned a bunch of them halfway through as being a waste of brain cells, or I have sworn to never return to a particular author, ever, after finishing one of his/her books.
I've spent a lot of time and mental energy wondering why Christian "literature" (oh, yeah, I put that in quotes!) is so bad. And I've come to the conclusion that it's some of the same reasons that I always hear for why there's not a lot of good Christian music: 1) The really talented people realise pretty quickly that the money lies elsewhere, 2) The purchasers of Christian stuff aren't that discerning, and therefore, 3) Bad writers can write for the Christian market and still be successful, because there are people who will buy their books.
I acknowledge that #2 may be a bit harsh. But really, I went around feeling guilty as a teen for not liking all the Janette Oke books my grandmother filled her house with. I doubt that I'm the only one who has ever been driven to read Christian material out of guilt. There probably are some people who genuinely want to read Christian-themed books, so (I guess) they take what they can get. And I'm sure there are some for whom these books are exactly what they were looking for (I'm equally sure those same people would dislike the books on my shelves). And that's why #3 hinges so closely to #2; if readers are desperate to stick to books that are about Christian characters, they will buy the mediocre stuff for lack of other options. And people who like bad writing and happen to be Christians will also buy it, think that it is brilliant, and tell me that I must read it if I like Jesus at all.
So, moving on to the ones I've managed to like. There are two Christian authors who I would read again, Lisa Samson and Beverly Lewis, and one who I would recommend to others: Francine Rivers. It's taken me a while to appreciate Ms. Rivers, actually; I didn't enjoy my first read of her book The Scarlet Thread. I read it for my senior English class; the assignment was to read a late 20th-century novel. This was April 1996, and The Scarlet Thread had been published in January 1996. I won. :) As a 17-year-old who had led a rather sheltered life, I didn't care for the dual plot lines that included marital strife, divorce, incest, rape, gossip, untimely death, and a rocky road back to Jesus. In the world of teenaged Su, those sorts of things were unthinkable.
Thirtysomething Su knows better. While I have been (mostly) spared the pain of bad choices by myself or those closest to me, I have seen it all too clearly in the lives of others. Goodness knows I'm not the greatest friend ever, but goodness also knows that I can hold a friend with one hand and a box of Kleenex with the other (and a kid on my lap, if necessary). I hate seeing people in pain, but we live in a broken world, and Ms. Rivers can write about it so eloquently, while also showing God's healing hand in the lives of broken people. She's amazing.
I wish there were more writers like her in the Christian market. I wish there were fewer writers churning out nonsense and drivel, with wooden characters and a shaky-to-nonexistent plot. I really, really wish that people would stop recommending the rubbish to me, so I can stop pretending to appreciate the recommendation. (Sorry.)
What am I, as an aspiring writer, to do? Come back tomorrow and I'll talk about it.