On a recent weekend, my family and I took a visit to a local bookstore.
Anyone who loves books knows the instant hush and excitement of pushing through those doors, the scrying of a galaxy of strange and stirring portkeys, a catacomb of creativity.
Fingers reverently brush the expensive pages, pry the spells apart to let coffee’d air rustle the pages, heft the tomes and wonder at the decades of discipline that inked these interiors.
Amid such reveries, I pushed through these literary labyrinths, and found myself before the Christian fiction section.
I was reminded of our CatholicAuthor community.
In an ideal world, do we want to have a batch of shelves set aside for Catholic fiction?
Is that a good idea?
I saw a comment recently from a reviewer of Catholic fiction, assuring visitors that all books are orthodox and comfortable to Catholic readers.
That stuck with me.
Not all Catholic fiction is comfortable. In fact, I agree with Flannery o’Connor that:
“Catholic life as seen by a Catholic doesn’t always make comfortable reading for Catholics…” Flannery O’Connor, ‘Catholic Novelists and Their Readers’
Catholic fiction is not a tame lion.
It’s challenging because it doesn’t think as the world does. Our fiction isn’t neatly separated out with a series of sacramental sigils and colors and lifestyle themes.
That’s a cultural thing, not a Catholic thing. Catholic fiction in eastern India will be very different from northern Russia, or western USA.
All of it is the exploration and expression of ideas through human lives. That’s why anytime you look at something and think ‘yep, that’s Catholic,’ have a second thought.
Is it ‘Catholic’? Or is it your cultural expression of Catholicism?
Our faith is greater than time or place. It is the Kingdom itself, a seed that takes root in fertile ground wherever it is sown.
So I, for one, would not like to have a section dedicated to Catholic fiction.
I would like hordes of Catholic authors writing fantastic, chilling, and thrilling fiction that rubs shoulders in all the other shelves.
Putting a label like ‘Catholic fiction’ on a book does a good thing, and another thing.
The good thing is that people already comfortable with their faith will opt for it because it reinforces a lifestyle. That’s good, and needed. Especially among young ones.
But the sad thing is that it will get pigeonholed. It will be easily dismissed by non-Christian people, the same way most might skip a section devoted to an inter-Himalayan tribe.
But readers who are drawn to the larger genre of fantasy, history, romance, aren’t looking for cultural validation. Not in the same way.
We’re looking for an escape. For immersion. For imagination. To be challenged. To live a different life, and feel a different world. To enter into someone else’s humanity and thrill at their journey.
That is where Catholic-inspired fiction needs to be. That’s where we authors need to goal. To be just as compelling. To be introduced to the themes of our faith through new lenses.
To use our fiction to haunt and fascinate and trouble and tear open and weep and hold out a gentle hand.
In a word, to be more deeply human and true and good and elvish, not less.
Most novels skims the surface of good and evil and the meaning of human living. Truly good ones go deep, get real. And there are many non-Catholic classics and modern contributions that do that.
Catholics don’t see ourselves in competition with creation and creativity, because God is not in competition with his creation.
We can embrace the urge to dramatize the danger and delights of existence, holding true to all the dark gilding and dire graces.
Its not easy. Its utterly thrilling. And our dreams are born from a deeper place. They don’t deserve to be shelved and ignored.
They deserve to be wrestled with, like Jacob and God.
Perhaps, in our own wrestling with our craft and creed, and our readers with our writings, something new can be broken. A new opening in the wineskins for new wine. Maybe God can break in.
We are Catholic authors. Co-creation is our calling.
So write blockbusters and bedside books and brilliant novellas that rivet humans, make friends, and push everyone to begin to see their worlds and lives aslant.
Perhaps a new angle on grit, glut, and grace is the opening Christ can use.
That’s up to Him. Conversion is between God and the individual.
Our job, yours and mine, is to enjoy and endear the journey, the project, the story.