I was recently invited to participate in a dialogue about books and reading by John Wilson, the editor of Books & Culture (a sister publication of Christianity Today). John asked if I would consider writing out a blog conversation with Dr. Karen Swallow Prior, the Chair of the Department of English and Modern Languages at Liberty University. The invitation struck me as initially intimidating because I’m fairly certain Karen can intellectually roundhouse kick me back and forth across the literary mat without breaking a sweat, if she wanted to. But I was assured it was no debate, and that I would not be injured. So I agreed. It turned out to be a brief but enjoyable dialogue about books and reading (thank you John!). Our four-part conversation is now online:
How do Christians read classical literature for spiritual edification?
Jim Hamilton provides us with one nice model, not only in how he thoughtfully cites excerpts from literature in his recent book on biblical theology, but more recently in how he connects Mark 12 and the plot of Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. See Hamilton’s blog post: “Tenants, Traps, Teaching, and the Meaning of Melville’s ‘Moby Dick.’”
Preachers should take note of how Hamilton enlists classic literature for his sermon illustrations. Too frequently preachers draw their illustrations from entertainment world when classic literature abounds with even better and more useful sermon illustrations, illustrations that simultaneously reinforce the value and importance of reading to his congregation.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lectures on Literature (Harvest, 1982) p. 64:
Although we read with our minds, the seat of artistic delight is between the shoulder blades. … Let us be proud of our being vertebrates, for we are vertebrates tipped at the head with a divine flame. The brain only continues the spine: the wick really goes through the whole length of the candle. If we are not capable of enjoying that shiver, if we cannot enjoy literature, then let us give up the whole thing and concentrate on our comics, our videos, our books-of-the-week.