I just read an excellent article by Shelley Shepard Gray about why she writes Amish inspirational romances. I was particularly interested in the reaction that her friends had to her profession of choice:
"Tom's wife writes Amish romances," he said while smiling, almost as if I should be embarrassed that he divulged my secret.
I've had a similar reaction recently when I've mentioned that I review Christian novels for Abingdon Press and Barbour Publishing. I don't think it should be a secret that I like to read these novels and get excited at the chance to critique them. But a lot of my friends, particularly those who are Christians, look down on this type of fiction and assume that these books are predictable and badly written just because they have the "Inspirational" label. I'll admit it, I have read a few books by Christian authors that I've felt were sub-par; but I've also read thrillers and family sagas and chick-lit novels that I've been equally unimpressed with. The suggestion that a novel should be unworthy of reading purely because it features characters who love God and involve him in their daily lives is, to be frank, narrow-minded and ignorant. It's also offensive to the writer - anyone who has written and published a novel has achieved more than I have. Even if I hate the book that I'm reading, I can appreciate the time and effort that has gone into the story and that there will be a lot of people who do enjoy it, even if I don't.
I don't indulge in a diet purely of Inspirational novels. I read plenty of secular novels, ones that feature characters who have sex before marriage, who get drunk, who make irresponsible decisions, who cheat on their husbands or wives, who use words that I consider profane. I live in a world where these kinds of thing happen all the time, all around me. But I also enjoy reading books about characters who are similar to me, who discover new things about God in their everyday lives. I don't always uncover something new and inspiring every time I read an Christian novel, but sometimes I do, and even put a post-it on a page with a particularly relevant verse or statement. I'd like to stress that while there are a vast quantity of romance novels in the Inspirational genre, there are plenty of other sub-genres to explore. I recently read Tristian's Gap by Nancy Rue which covered the topic of a teenage girl running away from home because of her overbearing parents. The issue of teenage runaways is very much present in today's society and there is nothing to say that it's not one that doesn't affect Christian families. I love that more and more authors are writing about topical issues and exploring different genres with a Christian slant. I think the reason that many people, including Christians, look down on Inspirational fiction is because they think it's full of mass-produced romance novels with a few Bible verses and references to prayer tossed in. I can assure you all that this is not the case.
I myself am particularly partial to the "bonnet-fiction" genre that is emerging. Shelley Shepard Gray describes the appeal of these books:
There's a quiet appeal to a way of life that doesn't involve computers, cell phones, traffic, radios or GPS systems. In the Amish community, family and faith are integral to every decision -- and with that comes comfort.
When I write about my characters spending the morning in prayer, passing an afternoon canning with friends or piecing a quilt for a charity auction, I wish I were doing those things, too. And when my characters speak with absolute certainty that the Lord is with them, I also yearn to feel that way.
I wish I had more time to appreciate nature, to get to know each of my neighbours, to try more recipes, to make my own quilt. I spend too much time watching reruns of my favourite TV shows, reading blog posts and scrolling through Facebook. I'm sure we're all guilty of this. I could never give up my phone or my computer but I do appreciate the days when I'm able to go about my daily tasks with more efficiency because I don't have any internet access. I'm always amazed at how much the Amish get done in a day, purely because they don't have any technological distractions. I'd like to take a leaf out of their book and try to make my days more efficient so that I can do the things I love more often - work on my writing, read the hundred or so books sitting in my room, bake shortbread for my boyfriend, take up knitting again.
I hope that authors like Shelley Shepard Gray and Amy Clipston will continue to give the Inspirational genre more recognition and respect. We're lucky to have so many talented writers who want to inspire and encourage us in our lives - while providing us with entertaining reading materials! And as for those who staunchly believe that Christian novels aren't worth glancing at? Well, they're just missing out!