Magazine article The Christian Century
Novel Idea. (from the Editor/publisher)
I AM MOSTLY a utilitarian reader. For 40 years I have been writing and preaching sermons weekly, and I have come to rely on the almost exact relationship between the quality and quantity of my reading and my ability to create a sermon that has some life and energy to it. Good reading--of Bible commentaries, books on theology and culture, essays, journals--stimulates whatever it is in me that produces sermons.
What I don't read enough of are novels--books that don't immediately commend themselves as aids in sermon writing. As a New Year's resolution I determined to read a few books just for the pleasure of reading. It has been great fun, and I have found that these books do nourish the work of preaching.
I can commend Louis Begley's About Schmidt and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. Begley's short novel was rewritten for the film version. I loved the book, which is about profound loneliness and our capacity to hurt those people we most deeply cherish. And I couldn't put Franzen's novel down. It's about a midwestern American family, and I felt as if I knew personally each of its amazing characters.
The Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on Writing, by Norman Mailer, is not a novel, but it is outrageous, funny, irreverent and beautifully crafted. I learned more than I wanted to know about the trials and tribulations of trying to earn a living by marketing one's art. …