What I Read in February + how I evaluate stories

Over the years, my metric for good fiction has changed. I jumped into the Christian fiction realm as a young teenager, read excessively and honestly, found it lacking more and more as I got older. Since my goal here isn’t to critique (some forms of) Christian fiction, I’m going to leave it at that. What I want now is a story that accurately portrays humanity with all the beauty and flaws that come with being human. I don’t want performative sin in an imaginative world where consequences aren’t real. I also don’t want to see evil glorified, that’s a different narrative altogether. But neither am I looking for a pretend world that shows no parallel to reality. Even stories that at first glance seem far removed from our everyday lives such as fantasy or dystopian fiction only work when they reveal the world that we thought we knew.

Some of these stories might have themes that are outside of a kingdom ethic. We will all encounter people whose stories fall outside of kingdom ethics. All of our stories fall outside a kingdom ethic in places. Reading fiction can help prepare us for these encounters around our dinner tables. We need to wrestle with concepts in embodied life and not just academic theories. If this person, from this book, were drinking coffee in my living room, how would I respond to the story?

Of course everyone has different limits. The stories you can read/watch/listen to will be limited by your experiences, past trauma, your age and maturity, personal temptations, and so many other things. I cannot prescribe those limits to you and I have no desire to do that. This is just a potential opportunity to reframe the point of stories.

What I Read (or finished reading) in January

Mary Oliver wrote this lovely poem that I discovered in December.

Wherever I’ve lived my room and soon
the entire house is filled with books;
poems, stories, histories, prayers of
all kinds stand up gracefully or are
heaped on shelves, on the floor, on
the bed. Strangers old and new offering
their words bountifully and thoughtfully,
lifting my heart.

But, wait! I’ve made a mistake! how
could these makers of so many books
that have given so much to my life–
how could they possibly be strangers?

I’m going to have it printed and framed just like the poem in our bathroom (which is “The Genius” by Billy Collins, in case you were wondering). I love to read and I love books on shelves; we just added some more shelves in our home. I don’t aim for a certain number of books every year and I don’t force myself to finish books that I don’t like, but I do read intentionally and I keep a record. For the past few years, I’ve kept my reads in an Instagram highlight and I’m still doing that this year. But I’m also recording them in the back of my planner (a Get to Work book– this is the sixth year I’ve used one and I love it) and I’m going to catalogue them here every month.

When 2020 ended, I looked over the years’ books and decided I wanted to sprinkle in some variety. But I don’t make a reading list for the year; I read what I feel like reading. In order to navigate this tension, I decided that every month, I would aim for some poetry, fiction, and/or essays along with my nonfiction. In an effort to relieve my stress about deciding on fiction (and since we still aren’t hanging out at the library) I splurged on a subscription at The Bookshelf  and will get a new fiction book every month, picked out by Annie Jones. Yes, it’s a treat and it will be a delight.