I know the other day I rained on some book-club-parades (do they have those? Instead of candy, do they throw wine?) when I suggested that Fifty Shades of Grey might not be appropriate Christian reading.
Oh, wait, I called it porn. I knew it was more forceful than that.
But I love reading so much and I don’t want anyone to quit reading just to avoid those books (although if my choices were 50 Shades of Grey and illiteracy, I’d choose illiteracy). So I thought I’d give you some alternatives that are just as addictive and much better for your soul.
If you’re a sucker for a love story, you won’t do better than Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. The author was a romance novelist before she became a Christian, so she’s a good writer with a good message. Redeeming Love modernizes the book of Hosea (okay, “modernizes”–it’s set in the gold rush), following Michael Hosea–who is hands down the holiest and most attractive male character I’ve ever read–as he marries a woman he knows is a prostitute. She’s so broken but he’s so good. Even on a shallow level, it’s a beautiful story; once you realize it’s about God’s love for you, it’ll break your heart. After the Bible, it may be the most important book a woman can read. Warning: if you buy it used, make sure it doesn’t have the ridiculous picture of a blonde woman in front of a sunset–you’ll be too embarrassed to read it in public.
If a perfect man doesn’t do it for you and you need more character development in your romantic interests, try Rivers’ Mark of the Lion series. This series has some drawbacks (a really slow start, for one), but once you’re drawn in, you’ll be fascinated by the goodness of the Christian slave girl, the dramatic consequences of evil choices, and the desperate love that breaks down barriers.
I think that what’s most touching in these books is the way that the love of good women inspires the heroes of the stories to become more fully themselves. They don’t change for their women, they grow because they’re so well loved. The series is set in the first century, so it gives you some insight into early Christian culture, as well as having one of the best Biblical defenses of Jesus as Messiah that I’ve ever read (book 2). But more than anything, it’s a love story, and who doesn’t love that?
If you have to be one of the crowd (which, in this instance, is just fine), why not try The Hunger Games? Sometimes it’s fun to have the same experience half the country has had–and to know what they’re talking about when they go on and on about it. I know people act like they’re just for 15-year-old girls, but these books are some of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read. Plus, Peeta is a close second to Michael Hosea as the most Christlike man in literature. I won’t say any more for fear of giving anything away. I assume you know the plot, so I’ll leave it at this: I LOVED these books and I honestly think they deepened my prayer life.
If you’re up for more of a challenge, try a novel about martyrdom. Silence by Shusaku Endo and The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene are two of my favorite books of all time and they have the added bonus of being great literature. Christian romance novels are all well and good, but there comes a time when you want to sound impressive when people ask you what you’ve been reading–or, you know, just to further your mind along with your soul.
Endo’s book follows a Jesuit priest fleeing persecution in 17th century Japan. As he runs from his pursuers, you honestly feel as though you’re walking up Calvary with him. This one’s great during Lent or for meditating on the Passion any time and ends with a powerful ethical dilemma that will get you asking the question: how far am I willing to go for Christ?
Greene’s hero is much less heroic: a “whiskey priest” undercover during a time of persecution in Mexico, you hate him and yet you love him. His complexity makes the book alternately inspiring and infuriating, as is most of Greene’s work. The Power and the Glory will challenge your perceptions of holiness and push you to evaluate what parts of you are just as bad as the whiskey priest.
Any other suggestions? Books that changed your life/were addictive/inspired great discussion/were just plain fun? I’d love to hear your book recommendations!
Before you run off to buy every one of these books, let me recommend DealOz. I don’t get any kickbacks, I just buy all my books through that site because it searches more than 200 sites to find the best price. And when prices are close, I always go with BetterWorldBooks, an organization that donates a book to someone in need every time they sell a book. Cheap books and increased international literacy? Win-win-win.