Why do I find it hard to finish Christian books?
One of my great delights is reading – always has been. As a boy, my mother would take me to the library and we would both read. Novels have got me through some tough times. Indeed, I sometimes say that some of the most real people I have ever met I've met in novels.
My English teachers, at school, were staunch Leavisites. They ascribed to that academic's view that reading good books made us better people. It's the same kind of liberal idea that EM Forster had. I still believe that fiction has the power to change us. But I have been struck by a disturbing thought – why do I finish every novel that I pick up but give up so easily on Christian book? And please hear me well; I think this probably a great deal down to my own flimsy concentration.
The last Christian book I got through to the end was by our esteemed editor here at Christian Today – a riveting read, sir. And there have been others – many of them over the years. But this last few months hasn't seen a very good strike rate of me finishing books.
One of the issues is why we read Christian books and what we expect them to deliver. I tend to be looking for truths and for things that I can apply. If you read in this way then it is easy to skim and not to engage very deeply. We are looking to mine a book for truth and this can stop us from luxuriating in it.
That's totally different to what I am looking for from a novel. I tend to let a novel take its time with me and me take my time with it. Plus, of course, novels have characters and plots – they are designed to make us turn the page. And here's a point, I wonder how we could learn from the art of storytelling obvious in a novel and apply it to our Christian books?
I tend to be a bit impatient with Christian books, but that's maybe because I seem to have a nagging thought before I start that I might not make it all the way through. My past failures cloud my current reading. If I were to approach a Christian book like a novel I might have more success.
But are there other things we Christian writers might learn? I am loath to be too sweeping. When I think of the gold standard of Christian writers like Mike Yaconelli, he wins through with sheer brutal honesty, good stories and wit. Frederick Buechner is a genius – and a hard act to follow. He has the same honesty as Yaconelli but also the ability to ask dangerous questions and admit to mystery. Interestingly Mark Woods' book goes into dangerous territory also.
But I'm sure there's a lot more thought to be done. And isn't that Christian books are bad – in fact many are good. It's just I am sure I am not alone in finding it hard to get to the end of them. Industry insiders have told me that there is a pressure away from short books – publishers like longer ones – and that's a shame. Sometimes I myself am guilty of spinning out a good short piece into a more meandering longer one. Some of my favourite Christian books have been refreshingly brief.
So, the question is still a live one for me. I'm certainly not going to give up on buying books.
As I wrote this I asked my partner what she thought. 'Oh, I haven't read a Christian book for years,' she said, turning back to her novel.
Rev Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter @SteveMorris214