It’s summer time, and that means summer beach reading!
In fact, summer’s one of the few times that I let myself read novels, because I have this problem: when I start reading a novel, I am incapable of stopping until it’s finished. So if I start reading one at lunch on a day that I’m supposed to be working, nothing will get done that day (including making dinner) until the book is finished.
But in the summer, when I actually have some free time, I let myself indulge!
And I’m thinking that maybe you do, too.
So today I just wanted to start a conversation about what kinds of books we read.
I absolutely love Jane Austen (of course). I love the sweeping historical epics (like Leon Uris or Brock and Bodie Thoene), the thriller books (like Randy Alcorn), the lawyer books (like Robert Whitlow or John Grisham). I like some Jodi Picoult and Kate Morton because they make me think. I absolutely adore any mystery by P.D. James because her characters are just so GOOD. I come away wanting to have more fruits of the spirit!
But I’ve never been a big fan of romance novels.
I’ve written before about why romance novels can be harmful; read the whole thing (or click on the picture!).
Simply put, while romance a la Jane Austen simply teaches us to ponder life and love and purpose, other books are written for no other reason than to encourage escapism or even arousal–and that is not healthy for anyone, and is darn right dangerous if you’re married.
Harlequin even agrees that this is what they’re doing!
Take a look at this video that Harlequin put out, entitled “Whatever You’re Into”. It used to be up on YouTube; they’ve since taken it down, even though it got huge views (maybe they got too much flak for it)? But you can still watch it on their Facebook page (or just click the picture).
The point? You read a romance novel to fantasize about having a totally different life.
Here’s their more recent video (it’s a little more tame, but the point is the same):
Do a thought experiment with me: imagine if the genders were reversed. Imagine if it was a guy saying, “I’ve been working hard. I deserve to fantasize about other sexy women.” Would we think that was empowering, or would we think that was totally disgusting?
(Total Hat Tip to Lisa Hall-Wilson for showing me these videos! She’s written an awesome response, too.)
Now, I don’t think that reading a novel with romance in it (or even some tasteful sex scenes) automatically causes us to fantasize about living an entirely different life. But if you’re reading a constant diet of Harlequins or Nora Roberts, then it can all too easily fuel dissatisfaction with your life. Those novels are totally unrealistic. The males in them are totally unrealistic. And I’m not sure why we think it’s good to read things that can so often fuel dissatisfaction?
Then, of course, there’s the issue that many novels really are soft porn (or just plain erotica).
I remember being on a cruise ship a few years ago and being totally blown away by how many women were reading 50 Shades of Grey openly, right on the pool deck, while their husbands were right beside them. The only purpose of that book is to get you aroused–just like pornography. And the more you pair your arousal to a fantasy like that, the more you’re going to have to fantasize when you’re with your husband to get aroused. Erotica is just plain scary, and it really is wrong.
(I’ve got a post on how to stop that fantasizing, or dissociation during sex).
And so often there’s a progression: Amish romance novels –> regular romance novels –> soft porn erotica (like Nora Roberts) –> hard core erotica –> full blown porn.
Almost all women who struggle with porn that I talk to started with romance novels.
So even if we try to steer clear from the novels that are simply blantantly soft porn, does that mean that we’re safe with Christian novels?
I don’t think so.
Many Christian novels are just plain bad.
I’m going to let my youngest daughter Katie chime in on this one (it’s pretty funny). She always called Christian romance novels “hair books” because she always loved the hairstyles on the covers:
And my older daughter chimed in on her blog, too, on why she hates Christian fiction:
Beyond the physical, they are emotionally inept! They obsess over these men, refuse to take the easy way for anything, but instead every little misunderstanding becomes some huge catastrophe. Almost all Christian romance novels’ climaxes could be solved by the two people just talking to each other for once in the freaking book.
Read her whole take here.
I don’t want to tar all Christian books with the same brush, but if I’m looking for a riveting read, I’ve stopped turning to Christian publishers, which is sad. Even the “thriller” romance books that most people like, such as Dee Henderson’s series, I find have totally unrealistic heroes. How many guys do you know who are 30+ and totally good looking with amazing jobs and who are super strong and super great with women but have never been married or in a serious relationship before? And they’re all like that?
Can’t we do better than that? Honestly, if Christians stopped buying stuff that wasn’t even good, maybe publishers would take more risks and stop publishing only the cookie-cutter plot kind of books and actually publish more books about real life.
I’ve often toyed with writing fiction (I really do want to; I think I’ll try in the next five years), but I’ll self-publish because regular publishers won’t take my books, I’m sure. I want to write realistic stuff about how messy marriage can be, rather than these picture perfect caricatures.
So what are good books?
I shared a book with you just after Christmas which had a profound effect on me, and I still highly recommend it: As Soon as I Fell. It’s a memoir by Kay Bruner, who used to be a missionary in Indonesia. And it’s really her tale of how she came out of legalism and came to understand grace, while also battling her husband’s porn addiction. I saw so much of myself in Kay as she tried so hard to win God’s approval, and completely neglected herself in the process. That’s the kind of book I like.
I’ve liked some of Lynn Austin’s historical books, and some of Karen Kingsbury when she gets real about the messiness in marriage, and Randy Alcorn all the time:
Candle in the Darkness (Refiner’s Fire) (Volume 1) (Lynn Austin; the rest in the Refiner’s Fire series are really good, too)
A Time to Dance (Timeless Love Series) (Karen Kingsbury; the second in the series is good, too, all about messiness in marriage)
Deadline (by Randy Alcorn, the next two in the series are brilliant as well; love the peek into the supernatural)
And so I’d love your suggestions: I’m looking for novels with plots, with characters that are believable (in other words, they have faults) and with marriages that aren’t picture perfect but are instead realistic. What do you think?
And have you ever struggled with romance novels? Let’s talk in the comments!