Novels Worth Their Dime

One of my very dear friends once summed it up: “Money can’t buy happiness. But money can buy books, which is almost the same thing.” If she’s reading this, I’m giving her an internet high-five. So true….

Regardless of whether you love books as much as my friend and I do, or if you’d rather use them for kindling (no pun intended), the truth is that at some point you have got to read something, be it for school, vocation, entertainment, or anything else. So what are you reading right now? (Here I must explain that when I say “book” I also mean “movie”, “show”, or any other content that asks you to think about what it says.)

Once a farmer boy, David king of Israel was also a giant-slayer and all-around ninja “after God’s own heart”. If you haven’t already, you absolutely must read David’s story starting in 1 Samuel. Anyway, he has this to say in one of the psalms about integrity:

I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. (Psalm 101:3)

So what exactly qualifies as “worthless”?

Every genre has the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’ve seen harmful historical fiction alongside edifying thrillers. Christian parents and children alike can argue until the world ends about the controversial works of J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins to name a few, but they will get nowhere until they realize exactly what their moral standard is. And if they looked at that, they would probably stop arguing altogether.

As Christians, our ultimate source of authority on every subject is (Sunday school answer) the Bible. Think of Jesus’ two Greatest Commandments. Love God, and love other people as yourself. Anything that goes against these commandments is worthless.

God doesn’t say in the Bible, “Thou shalt not read Twilight.” No, the key to reading a book is another tool called discernment. In my own words, discernment is seeing things the way God sees them. When I choose books, I ask myself questions about them. Would Jesus have liked this book, and does it share His worldview? If not, where did the author go wrong? What is the truth? This of course takes a lot of thinking, and every book needs to be picked apart and inspected in light of God’s Word. That’s a good thing. All the classics were written to make people think.

So what about good books with mature themes, such as The Great Gatsby? The way I see it, every book was written to a specific audience to benefit them intellectually, and authors sometimes need to tell a hard truth. The subject matter doesn’t have to be “clean” per se, just age-appropriate. I read so many intense books on the subject of totalitarianism last year that I got headaches.

Which brings me to my final point- I sometimes have to put books down. I know a book is affecting me negatively when I get upset and growly (like Thorin, come to think of it), and then I have to make the often-tough decision to stop. Unbroken is a perfect example; it’s a wonderful story of redemption and painstakingly accurate, but even at the age of sixteen I turned into a volatile dwarf while reading about the POW camp. So I gave up. I’ll finish it in a few years when it will do me more good than harm.

So that’s how I discern what exactly is and isn’t worthless. Each family has varying guidelines, but I hope that pretty much every Christian can agree with these. This school year you can read as many or as few books as you like, but whatever you do, think about what they all say.

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