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Two Modern Novel Recommendations

Fiction is good for the soul.

Good fictional literature grips the imagination and shapes the affections, both important for the life of faith.

For that reason, I regularly make it a practice to read fiction amidst all of the other theological, musicological, cultural, philosophical, and historical reading I do.

I also make it a practice to follow C. S. Lewis’ advice and mix older reading with newer, weighing more heavily to the classic, but always looking for new modern authors who write good things. That task (the latter one), is often difficult, however.

That is why I was delighted, upon the recommendation of John Piper, to find two novels by modern author Leif Enger, Peace Like a River, and So Brave, Young, and Hansome (I know they sound like romance novels, but they’re not!!).

I highly recommend them to your soul.

Now, if you’re used to plot-driven, “Law & Order” type, contemporary novels of the likes of James Patterson or Mary McDonald, you’ll probably not like these.

But that’s what makes them good.

Both have engaging plots, to be sure (especially SBYH), but they are not plot-driven. They are more about character development than anything else. To the underdeveloped imagination, Enger’s plots may seem to be filled with unrelated, unnecessary events. But not so within the scope of the large, beautiful canvas of character upon which he is painting.

Yes, these novels do have plots; they have crisis moments – several of them; some very serious. But what is so attractive to me about how Enger writes is that his crises are modestly written.

I’m all about modesty in art. If the artist is going to move me, I want his artwork to do that, not some gimmick – sensationalism or sentimentalism or something.

Enger is a master of foreshadow; he does build anticipation. But when the crises come, they slip into the fabric of the narrative in a naturally modest manner. The reader can’t help but realize, “This is how it would happen.”

And you are moved, really moved, not by some tear-jerking moment or sensational surprise, but by the characters themselves and the beautiful language Enger masterfully employs.

And the language – the language! Enger’s writing is more like poetry than prose, something that helps him grip your affections and shape them for good.

Perhaps best of all is the clearly Christian wordview from within these novels are written. They’re not “Christian” per se, and they’re refreshingly not pop Christian with hokey conversion experiences or cheezy Jesus-talk.

But they are wholesome, something you don’t often read in modern novels. True to life they are, but not unecessarily so. Their goal is not so much to reflect the realities of a fallen world, but to shape the world of the reader for good.

So unlike other even relatively clean modern novels, you won’t find any swearing or sex. They have all of the objectionable elements of the Bible: attempted rape, murder, violence, and deception. But, like in the Bible, none are gratuitous or explicit.

So without reservation I highly recommend these books. It will be better for you than watching NCIS.

About Scott Aniol

Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.