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Conducted over a five-year period, these face-to-face interviews provide a window into the personal and literary lives of some of our most significant writers. Here the writers candidly discuss their careers and published works as well as their works in progress and their general views of the ...
Conducted over a five-year period, these face-to-face interviews provide a window into the personal and literary lives of some of our most significant writers. Here the writers candidly discuss their careers and published works as well as their works in progress and their general views of the profession. In each case, the authors also talk about the intersection between faith and fiction and the role of religion in the work of a writer.
Featuring interviews with:
Robert Olen Butler
Of Fiction and Faith also includes photographs, a brief introduction to each of the writers, and a chronological listing of their work. Taken together, the interviews provide a perceptive analysis of contemporary literature and a challenge to the practice of labeling books as "Christian" or "secular." In addition to serving those who are fans of one or more of these writers, this engaging volume will prove to be an excellent resource for those interested in finding quality fiction for personal reading.
"Cozy fireside conversations with a dozen contemporary writers on their faith, carefully arranged and thoughtfully conceived." - Kirkus Reviews
Brown (English/Calvin Coll.) has gathered together conversations with 12 Christian writers, most of whom say they are uncomfortable with that term. The authors range from those renowned in Christian circles (Frederick Buechner and Walter Wangerin) to the more widely famous (Garrison Keillor, who is very provocative and outspoken about his vision for the church, and southern hellion Will Campbell). Brown also includes writers who are not yet household names, like newcomer Elizabeth Dewberry and longtime novelist Doris Betts, and popular authors most readers probably don't think of as Christian, like mystery writer Robert Goldsborough. Compiler Brown is fully engaged in these conversations, but allows the writers to speak for themselves (his introduction is less than three pages long, a refreshing brevity). Implicitly, his subtext seems to be that for these writers, there are a dozen different ways of manifesting their faith in their work. Brown is very critical of the throw-away fiction found in most Christian bookstores, and is intrigued by the fact that some of these bookstores won't even stock meaty novelists such as Campbell or Buechner. The writers discuss their stylistic and theological influences (Graham Greene, Annie Dillard, and Walker Percy win high marks from many). They reflect upon their perceived audiences, occasional hate mail, and stinging reviews; it is difficult, it seems, to write fiction with a Christian message when many Christian readers seem to prefer simplistic morality tales with squeaky-clean language, and when "secular" readers are often turned off by theology.
Brown has included a useful bibliography for each writer, pointing to further pleasures. The book's only real flaw is its fairly narrow perspective: All but one of the subjects are mainline Protestant (the exception being Jon Hassler, who is Catholic), most are male, and all are white.
In an era that prizes individual choice and private opinion, book reviewers and teachers of English are fast becoming anachronisms. The very idea of any arbiter of public taste is threatened by our faith in "You see it your way and I see it mine." Why should anyone presume to tell us what books to read, what films to watch, what music is good for us? Personal pleasure has become the central guiding principle behind our trips to the bookstores and the cinemas.
Book publishers argue that they simply give us what we want as they fill the shelves with O.J. tomes, celebrity biographies, and self-help manuals. It is unfortunate, as Barbara Kingsolver says, that "there is no Hippocratic Oath for the professionals who service our intellects."
But another view persists. Without regard to the market or the talk shows, many artists have continued to say what they think we need to hear. Even when we are not listening. These writers hark back to the old-fashioned notion that books can make us better. Such a view might be summarized in the words of Franz Kafka:
If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, why then do we read it? Good God, we would be happy if we had no books, and such books as make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. But what we must have are those books that come upon us like ill-fortune and distress us deeply, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice-ax to break the sea frozen inside us.
Ezra Pound says it more succinctly: "A book is a ball of fire we hold in our hands." And William Carlos Williams understands the seriousness of it all: "It is difficult to get the news from poems, but everyday men die miserably for lack of what is found there."
This is not to erase the value of popular literature, those books that leave us where we were. It is simply to suggest that we also need those books that take us where we have not yet been. Twinkies and Snickers Bars are tolerable in moderation, but a steady diet of such fare finally fails us.
But you have been to the bookstores. In Waldenbooks you may be able to find Henry David Thoreau on a shelf labeled "classics," near the back of the store. In the Family Bookstore you discover the newly popular Christian thriller. Both venues feature formula and glitz, cliché and simplicity, in ways that frustrate readers who are serious about the furniture of their minds. If we are to locate those books that "come upon us like ill-fortune," we are forced to search carefully.
This interview project began with Frederick Buechner. I wondered about this fine writer whose name I had to spell for bookstore clerks so they could look it up on their computer screens to try to figure out where I might find a copy of The Sacred Journey or Godric. I knew people who looked forward to each of his new books, but he never seemed to get bookstore space equal to that of John Grisham, Danielle Steele, or Frank Peretti. I wondered why. I decided to ask him.
I discovered a writer oddly between two worlds. He was, as he put it, "too religious for the irreligious and too secular for the religious." And I was to learn that he had company. Traveling around the country, I met Peggy Payne in her log house up a gravel road in North Carolina and Will Campbell in his chicken coop study in a Tennessee holler. I talked with Jon Hassler in a motel lobby in Ann Arbor and listened to Doris Betts over the clinking of forks on plates in a restaurant in Chapel Hill. Walt Wangerin let my tape recorders into his living room and Robert Goldsborough invited me into his offices at Crain Publications in Chicago. Garrison Keillor gave me bread and cheese in his apartment on the west side in New York City. Robert Olen Butler and Elizabeth Dewberry met me at the old Seelbach, the Gatsby hotel, in Louisville. Clyde Edgerton met me at "Dusty's Flying Taxi" in North Carolina, and Denise Giardina welcomed me into her West Virginia home. How gracious they have been, and what fun.
They talked to me with great friendliness about their careers, their audiences, their approaches to writing, and their attitudes toward issues of faith. The rejection of easy piety has excluded most of these writers from the family bookstore, and the avoidance of popular cliché has sometimes left them on the discount table, if anywhere, in the mainstream bookstores. But they persist. These are writers who will surprise and dismay; they may disturb and puzzle. But they finally offer insight into the lives we live.
Learning to Balance
Doubt and Faith
ROBERT OLEN BUTLER
On Madness and Longing
By the Fire
500 Words a Day
Dusty's Flying Taxi
You Can Take the Boy out of the Country
Writing and Revelation
Man of Letters