I read best-sellers, bargain books, literary fiction, memoir, historical fiction, chick lit, up-market women’s fiction, (some) thrillers, cozy mysteries, cookbooks, young-adult, middle grade, humor and the occasional romance.
But I’m Jewish so I don’t read Christian fiction.
Or do I?
Oy! Let me explain.
My friend, Tina Ann Forkner, writes Christian fiction. Her novel, Rose House, was on my TBR (to-be-read) list. For over a year. I was nervous. I wanted to be supportive. I wanted to like the book. Tina and I had just launched our friendship right before her first book was published, and while I read it, I didn’t contemplate it. I didn’t feel vested in the friendship at the time like I do now.
I decided if I read Tina’s book and it preached, proselytized or put-down my own beliefs, I’d tuck it under the leg of a wobbly table and Tina would never be the wiser. I’d just never mention it, and being the class-act she is, she’d never ask.
This isn’t a book review, it’s more a review of my limited understanding of Christian fiction. I was surprised to be delighted with the book from the start. Complex characters in real life situations, quandaries and questions, intrigue, a little romance, family dynamics, cultural anthropology and a dynamite setting. The characters — most of them — were Christian. Some had fallen-off church’s wagon but the premise of the book was not to get them back on. The theme of the book was hope. These characters drew their hope from their faith, but never once did I feel like any character was inauthentic in his or her actions and words. Their beliefs were organic to the story.
I was really surprised.
Then, I wondered — why is this Christian fiction if Jennifer Weiner’s Good in Bed and Certain Girls aren’t Jewish fiction? How about Snow in August, The Red Tent, Sarah’s Key, Sophie’s Choice or Marjorie Morningstar? I’ve written a yet-to-be-published novel and the characters are Jewish. Just because the characters are one religion — perhaps steeped in belief, culture and heritage — does it mean only people just like them should read the book?
I didn’t think so.
But Tina explained to me that there are books published by Christian publishers which are more religious in nature, with more faith and church in the storyline, where the purpose of the story is to impart beliefs. Tina enjoys reading these books, but shared with me that Christian fiction has evolved to include more mainstream stories as well, where the beliefs are organic to the character arc and plot lines.
In Rose House, the sisters, Lillian and Geena, remember growing up as pastor’s kids and have fond memories of church services of their youth. I have fond memories of synagogue services of my youth. I related to Lillian and Geena’s memories. The similarities outweighed the differences.
Unlike some authors of all kinds, Tina wants to branch out. She wants to write general market fiction. I think she already has, but I understand that being published by a Christian publisher might pigeonhole her books in some stores and with some readers.
It’s hard to step outside our circle of familiar.
I recently took my teenage daughter on a shopping trip where she promised she was going to shop outside her comfort zone. Last year she wore jeans and T-shirts, sweatpants and T-shirts, the occasional hoodie and infrequent shirt without words. This year she wanted something different. My advice was to try on anything she thought she might like and go from there. No one in the fitting room, especially not I, was going to force her to go home with something she’d never wear or didn’t like.
And while the pile of new shirts was mostly gray, black and white — she did come away with a purple sweater and a plaid (plaid!) button-down with a belt and there was nary a T-shirt or a cute quote or retro-character in the collection.
She wouldn’t have known she liked something different unless she tried it on, stepped back, looked in the mirror from different angles.
And I’m thinking it’s the same reading new genres and new authors.
I’m not suggesting every Jewish person read a novel published by a Christian publisher, but I am thinking if you see or hear of a book of any kind that is a little outside your ordinary, try it.
You might find it’s something very familiar.
A good story.
Originally published on STET! The Backspace Blog