Saturday, September 4, 2010

A (Tiny Bit Snobby) Note on Christian Romance Novels

I have an unhealthy habit of reading badly written books and mocking them. I used to take advantage of my fiction workshops in college for this same level of gratification. Snarky, I know. I admit that I (on occasion) read some of the more poorly written short stories out loud to my roommates so that we could laugh over them together. I read them stupid novels with much more regularity. And I still indulge myself even though I now laugh at them in the privacy of my own home.

So, were you to sample the plentiful market of less than pristine writing, I'd send you straight to your neighborhood Christian book store and tell you to check out the fiction section. Personally, I'm a fan of the Christian romance novel, which some term as "porn for women" and I like to call "darn good fun." Lori Wick, Janette Oke, Robin Jones Gunn... I've read them all and laughed uproariously over them. (Aside: this is not a comment on those writers as people. I'm sure that they are kind, wonderful women who truly love the Lord and I commend them for using their gifts to the best of their ability. I just question their editors' level of discernment.)

That said, the one Christian romance writer that I find to occasionally produce decent writing is Francine Rivers, and I picked up a book of hers while hanging out with my aunt last week: Her Mother's Hope. Not one of her best. I'm not saying that it was a complete cheese-fest, but it didn't stand up to some of her previous work (Leota's Garden and The Last Sin-Eater being some of the best works of modern Christian fiction I've read recently). Rivers' story covers a Swiss woman's journey to America, marriage, and family over the span of the two World Wars. Props to her for actually doing research and for not hitting me over the head with a Bible (if I have to read one more sermon in what's supposed to be a novel...). On a scale of 1 to 10, I'd give it a "not too shabby." I didn't spend 483 pages giggling over gushing descriptions of the protagonist's eyes or howling at awkward conversations. And I will read the sequel when it comes out, mostly because she actually left me on a cliff hanger. Seriously. Christian fiction and she left me on a cliff hanger? I was surprised too.

In closing, why is it that so much Christian fiction is so poorly written? Aren't we supposed to do everything to the best of our abilities and didn't God give us the same amount of talent as the non-believer next door? Just wondering... Thoughts?


  1. This is great. I actually read Leota's Garden two months ago and liked it, though I have steered clear of anything resembling Christian romance since I was 12. Mostly because I thought it was terrible literature and too much swooning. Who knows? Maybe you can be the first Christian romance novelist who writes a good one!

  2. Your blog has inspired me to confess that I have long harbored a secret (and now, not so secret) desire to write a Christian novel, not because I think I can do better than the usual suspects but because I would find it personally entertaining not to worry about trying to be better than the usual suspects. Yes, I am a total dork. But I'll bet that I could write a "torridly chaste" love scene between the small town guy with deep blue eyes and the woman who previously looked down on him because of his faith but has since had a spiritual awakening and now is grateful and moved to learn that he was praying for her all along. Or something like that. ;-)

  3. "Christian literature" has too often been an excuse for poor writers to get into the business. I could never in good conscious ask a publisher to publish anything of mine that was not carefully and elegantly written. I read many works by Christian writers (Toliken, Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, to name a few) because the books are good on their own merits. They mirror the world in some way and have something to say of universal significance. Oke I can do without. I read one many years ago and was never moved to touch another.

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  4. Sorry: I meant "conscience" not "conscious"

  5. Have you read 'Redeeming Love' by Rivers? Or any of Liz Curtis Higgs' fiction work? They make my list of decent reads in the Christian Romance genre. Then again, I'm just a sucker for historical fiction. :)

  6. I'm with you. "The Last Sin Eater" and also "Redeeming Love" are really good, but other things... not so much.

    My sister and I talked about it once - by labeling things "Christian" it is usually good on most of the Philippians 4:8 virtues, but then sometimes lacks the "excellent or praiseworthy". I struggle with much of the Christian music that is played on the radio (at least around these parts - and funny, they don't call it "Christian", instead they call it "family-friendly").

    But goodness, did I love me some Janette Oke when I was younger...

  7. Also a great post. I picked up "Redeeming Love" when you left me to go study in England, and miraculously, I had enough good sense to (QUICKLY) put it down. I just really couldn't take it. However, during middle school, I loved reading the first few books of Janette Oke's series about Love.... Love Comes Softly, etc. And, Gilbert Morris's Civil War series (Bonnets & Bugles... oops, shoulda known! lol). I never finished either series because of their repetitious format. "Girl meets guy, guy woos girl, oh no their love is in trouble, everything works out, PTL." I like what David said-- in a world of Christian writers like Lewis and Tolkien, it's hard to take a lot of current Christian Fiction seriously. Marian, why don't you write one? (: