Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Interview - Fiction and Nonfiction

Well, I will once again interrupt your regularly-scheduled book reviews for a post. I was tagged to answer a set of interview questions over at the blog of My Lady Bibliophile--which I have been reading with great enjoyment since it started up at the beginning of this year! Pop on over and say hello!

And now for the interview...




1. Who is your favorite Dickens character (If you haven't read any you may substitute for your general favorite character in anything you've read. :)
Oh dear! I don't generally read Dickens—although I have promised some friends that I will read Bleak House soon. I shall substitute a favourite character (of many...) in my favourite book: Faramir from The Lord of the Rings. Tolkien later admitted that Faramir may have been a self-insert character, but you still have to like a character who is scholarly, charismatic, good on the battlefield, and wise enough not to attempt to take the Ring from Frodo—not even to seriously consider it, thank you very much, Peter Jackson.

2. Do you keep a book list of the books you read, and if so, how many did you read last year?
I do—I use Book Tracker on Facebook. In 2011 I read 75 books.

3. Do you like to write stories, as well as read them?
Ah! My guilty secret is discovered. Yes, I do. And maybe one day I'll tell you more, if anything comes of them!

4. Would you call yourself an introvert, or an extrovert?
An introvert. Myers-Briggs would peg me as INFP.

5. List 5 of your favorite fiction books, and five of your favorite nonfiction (biographies count).
Fiction (in no particular order):
  1. The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
  2. The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton
  3. The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser
  4. Leave It to Psmith by PG Wodehouse
  5. Mr Standfast by John Buchan

    Non-fiction:
  1. The Ecclesiastic History of the English People by the Venerable Bede
  2. The One and the Many by RJ Rushdoony
  3. Angels in the Architecture by Douglas Wilson and Douglas Jones
  4. The White Horse King by Benjamin Merkle
  5. Worldly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were by Leland Ryken
No space to mention CS Lewis, or St Augustine or St Anselm! Alas...

6. Which do you purchase more, used books or new?
I only buy new books when I absolutely cannot get them in any other way. I can usually get ten used books for the price of one new book, through haunting op shops and book sales; and many of the books I like best are long out of print, so they cannot be bought new anyway.

7. Which book has influenced a spiritual turning point in your life? (Or a book that inspired you to live more for Christ, and why.)
Good question. I would have to say that all the deepest and most lasting change in my life has stemmed from reading the Bible. I don't know that I can dramatically point to any book and say “This changed my life!” But a few have come at pivotal times. The book of Lamentations was there at a turning-point. So Much More and It's Not That Complicated by the Botkin sisters were both extremely momentous. Elizabeth Goudge's The Rosemary Tree and Charles Williams's Descent into Hell were both nourishing at fraught moments. And for general care and feeding, there will always be the Chronicles of Narnia, the Pilgrim's Progress, TheMan Who Was Thursday, and King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.

8. What do you consider to be three benefits of reading modern stories, and three benefits of reading classic stories? (Classic being pre-1950)
Three benefits of contemporary fiction: 
1. The authors are usually not dead, which means you can look forward to more of their works. 
2. The books tend to be easier to read—more attention-grabbing. 
3. You get all the fun and excitement of reading what everyone else is reading, and talking to them about it.
(If these reasons seem a little half-hearted, well, you know that this blog is not titled In Which I Read New York Times Bestsellers).
Three benefits of vintage/classic fiction: 
1. The homeland of many, many classic novels is Christendom, unlike the majority today. 
2. After all this time, the greats are established and the chaff has been forgotten (although there is also the thrill in discovering forgotten greats). 
3. You become a time-traveller, able to look at life from the perspective of an author of some other time period. As a result you become able to recognise the attitudes of different time periods, and are liberated from chronological parochialism. Revisionist history fails to entrance you: instead, you learn from the horse's mouth how people really thought and lived and felt in the time of the Caesars, in medieval Europe, in Victorian Britain, in World War I.

9. Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction, and why?
Another excellent question.
Generally, I prefer fiction to non-fiction. As it is said, if you want someone to know the truth, tell him. But if you want him to love the truth, tell him a story. Non-fiction may be like the skeleton of an education. But you never saw a man fall in love with a skeleton. Fiction is important because it tells the truth; tells it a thousand different ways, and you never see it coming until it hits you. A selfish person is like a girl sitting alone in a dark sphere stroking herself and telling herself that everything will be alright, like in George MacDonald's The Wise Woman. A selfish person is like a man who forsakes the woman he desires for a phantom he can control, like in Charles Williams's Descent into Hell. A loving person, on the other hand, like Cordelia in Brideshead Revisited, has “no past tense for 'love'”.
Fiction is what humans do in mimicry of God. In that sense the only difference between non-fiction and fiction is the identity of the Author; the fact that non-fiction is creation while fiction is sub-creation. In this sense, fiction is just as good a business for us creatures to be about than non-fiction is. We glorify God when we imitate Him, and again when the work of our hands seeks to display the beauties of God's creation, God's nature, and God's justice. RC Sproul, Jr, has linked beauty with glory. In beautifying the world, or in bringing beauty to the attention of others, we cause them to contemplate and delight in God's beauty. The overflow of this delight is praise.
John Piper has said that in crying “Holy, holy, holy!” to one another the cherubim are reacting anew to hitherto unguessed-at vistas and facets of the infinite glory of God. Non-fiction is that glory; fiction is our reaction to it, our unceasing declarations of praise of His truth. True fiction will adore the same God, but from different angles. If the truth of God is like a ray of light piercing the darkness of our hearts, fiction is like a network of mirrors directing that light into every dark corner and eventually responding with praise. Non-fiction speaks with one tongue. Fiction, with a thousand. Non-fiction is fact; fiction is metaphor. And no matter how well we think we know the fact, it usually takes metaphor for us to understand it.
Fiction is uniquely capable of training the affections in beauty and leading us to repent of ugliness, evil, and lies. At best, it trains us to recognise the good and perfect, and to delight in it the way God intended.
Fiction is thus good in itself for the two different ways it gives glory to God. In writing fiction, the Christian writer is imitating God and, by sub-creating faithfully according to God's law, that imitation remains a faithful homage instead of a mockery. The reader then receives the insights and the praise of the writer, which calls his attention to new facets of God's glory—like the cherubim, who call to each other, “Holy, holy, holy!”
However, although I have mainly focused on fiction in this brief essay, and in my life, I do not believe that non-fiction is inherently lesser. How can I despise the reality that has inspired so many of my favourite novels? No—the reason I have usually stayed away from non-fiction is that I do not believe the non-fiction succeeds in capturing the true, Providential glory of reality. I except, of course, the great non-fiction of Christendom: The Confessions, On the Incarnation, and the rest. But any biography, any history, any science book that ignores the hand of Providence is a fantasy wilder and wickeder than anything JRR Tolkien ever dreamed of.

10. What is your favorite genre (historical, fantasy, mystery, romance, science fiction, etc.)
I can honestly say that I have no favourite genre. My favourite book is a fantasy and my second favourite book series are spy thrillers, but every time I go to a bookshop I take a look at most fantasies and thrillers with a feeling of profound apathy. I have a soft spot for historical romances, but also enjoy novels of manners. And I am still working through a favourite genre—my collection of epics.
People are even surprised to learn that I enjoy well-written sci-fi and westerns.
In a nutshell, if a book is competently written with an enjoyable plot and characters, in a way that is generally consistent with the ideals and beauties of Christendom, I will enjoy it. No matter what it is.

11. Does the cover of a book influence your decision to pick it up, and if so, what kind of cover sparks your interest?
Sometimes I pick up a book based on nothing more than the cover, and will usually then end up putting it down. These covers tend to be sensational, and the contents too sensational; I am far more likely to buy a book based on author's name, title, or even just publishing date and a quick skim through the pages.
I must register my disapproval of those horrid orange-and-white Penguin Modern Classics, though. So anonymous! So ugly!

5 comments:

Lillyput90 said...

I have recently discovered a new vintage author that I thought you might be interested in: Evaleen Stein. She has written several children's books (quite short, but very detailed) mostly set in Medieval France. I have managed to buy the six of her titles that are still in publication from bookdepository.co.uk. My favourites are: 'The Christmas Porringer' and 'Gabriel and the Hour Book'. They are beautiful stories:). The others she has written are in the 'Little Cousin of Long Ago' series, and cover medieval life, Our Little Crusader Cousin of Long Ago, Our Little Norman Cousin of Long Ago, Our Little Frankish Cousin of Long Ago, and Our Little Celtic Cousin of Long Ago. I also managed to download the out-of-print titles Troubadour Tales, and The Little Shepherd of Provence (both of which are lovely stories also). So yeah.... Just thought you might be interested:)

Suzannah said...

Thanks for the tip! I'll keep an eye out for her.

Lady Bibliophile said...

A fellow introvert, a fellow lover of the best of all genres, a fellow budding author.

Excellent.

Your question to the fiction question was beautifully put. Thanks for joining!

Blessings,
Schuyler

Joseph J said...

Question: Where do you get the time to read 75 books in one year!?

Suzannah said...

Oh, that's a good question. 75 is a personal record, though, and I know people busier than me who seem to get through many more (a young friend of mine who works two jobs and goes to university offhandedly mentioned having recently read The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, Les Miserables, all the Chronicles of Narnia, eight Dickens novels, John C Wright's Count to a Trillion, and the Confessions of St Augustine when I saw him last night).

There are strategies. I am a naturally very fast reader. I will also make time for reading. This blog and research for freelance journalism are both important to me, so I have to keep reading in order to have something to write about. I have found that to be a writer I must have a constant input. I also study in order to improve my mind--books of history and theology, mainly (right now I am working through the City of God). In addition I read in order to relax myself--I think nothing of curling up one weekend when I have nothing else on and knocking over two or three light novels. Then an audiobook will ensure that I can keep on reading if I am doing housework or commuting. And of course, the last proofreading job I finished involved reading a novel.

And yet, I still know people with real jobs who manage to read more than I do...

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