I've posted here before with names of non-fiction books which have meant a lot to me - books that inspired me to be a better writer, a better person, a better Christian. I’ve gone through with you the names of books which have caused a seismic shift theologically in my thinking - books by Tim Keller, NT Wright, Carolyn Custis James, Philip Yancey. There are more. In fact, I keep a section of my ‘Notebook’ (not a real notebook - this on is on my computer and the piece of software has the fancy name of ‘Notebook’) devoted to ‘life-changing reads.’
I read my nonfiction slowly in the morning along with my Bible and that first cup of coffee. I’ll read a chapter or section a day with my highlighter pen in hand making notes in the margin.
But, yet, I am a novelist, not a theologian. My life’s blood is fiction. Stories are the air I breathe. I read fiction very differently than nonfiction. I read nonfiction because I want to learn and grow. I read fiction simply because I want to read fiction.
The best day possible in my imagination? Sitting in the back of my boat all day, reading a novel. I reward myself with novels. ‘Okay,’ I tell myself, ‘you just get this floor vaccumed and then you can plop down onto the couch with that latest library book.’
And my most favorite fiction? Mysteries and thrillers with just a touch of romance. The top of my list include authors like Lisa Gardner, Karin Slaughter, (what a last name for a mystery writer!), Tess Gerritsen, Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben, I could go on. I read Saturday’s Globe and Mail faithfully taking note of Margaret Cannon’s column. I will have the newspaper in one hand and my laptop opened to my public library’s website with the other, and putting what looks good on hold at the library. I can often read a book a week.
Novels, and especially mysteries keep one’s brain active. Watching television is a passive activity. Your brain’s not much engaged. Reading novels, on the other hand is active. (I actually read somewhere - but can’t for the life of me find it now - that reading actually burns more calories than TV watching!) It allows your brain to think, to imagine, to create. Yes, create - when you ‘get lost’ in a good novel, you are ‘creating’ all the time - new worlds, what she looks like, what that house looks like, etc. This is opposed to television where it is all laid out for you.
Reading novels also relieves stress. When you can pull yourself out of your own life and peculiar stresses, and sit down and immerse yourself in a whole new world of your own making, you will ‘wake up’ refreshed and ready to do battle. And yes, it’s your own making. Ten people reading the same novel will come up with ten different ‘pictures’, ten different stories - which is why there are Book Clubs and not TV Clubs.
Are you getting the picture? We are made in the image of God. We were made to create, to live in our imaginations, to appreciate beauty. And reading novels, immersing ourselves in stories is one way.
What am I reading at present? I have Bram Stoker’s Dracula on my iPhone. I noticed it was free in iBooks and realized I had never read that classic. Very good - plenty of ‘atmosphere’. I’m also reading Ruth Rendell’s Not In The Flesh. It is excellent, of course, as all of her books are.