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Old 05-14-2004, 09:35 AM
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Suggestions for Fiction Books Dealing with Faith


So my wife is getting involved in a book club at our church and she is looking for a suggestion for fiction that women would like that deal with matters of faith. However, she's having problems finding books because most "Christian" fiction suffers from the same problem as Christian music: the authors (and audience, for that mater) see the message (Jesus is great) as more important than the writing, so the end result is a stilted, poorly-written propaganda piece (see the Left Behind series and Pat Robertson's attempts at Christian fiction).

Most of the women are very well educated and it's not a fundamentalist church, so crap like the Left Behind series won't fly. Books like The Da Vinci Code aren't good, either. Does anyone have any suggestions for books they may like? Basically she's looking for good fiction that takes faith seriously and yet isn't part of the "just put Jesus in the story and it's literature" genre.

Thanks in advance for any help.
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Old 05-14-2004, 09:49 AM
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A couple of shorter works:

"The Gospel According to Gameliel Crucis," by Michael Bishop about an alien Jesus figure.
"Journals of the Plague Years" by Norman Spinrad has a very powerful religious element, showing a sympathetic portrayal of a born-again Christian.
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Old 05-14-2004, 09:50 AM
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Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy springs to mind. She wrote other books with faith as a major theme, too, but that's the only one I'm positive has been translated to English.
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Old 05-14-2004, 10:02 AM
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The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Link to Amazon Listing

Description:
"In 2019, humanity finally finds proof of extraterrestrial life when a listening post in Puerto Rico picks up exquisite singing from a planet which will come to be known as Rakhat. While United Nations diplomats endlessly debate a possible first contact mission, the Society of Jesus quietly organizes an eight-person scientific expedition of its own. What the Jesuits find is a world so beyond comprehension that it will lead them to question the meaning of being "human." When the lone survivor of the expedition, Emilio Sandoz, returns to Earth in 2059, he will try to explain what went wrong... Words like "provocative" and "compelling" will come to mind as you read this shocking novel about first contact with a race that creates music akin to both poetry and prayer."

I enjoyed the book and felt it's sci-fi approach made questions about religion and faith easier to frame.
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Old 05-14-2004, 10:20 AM
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Susan Howatch has written an excellent series of books known as The Starbridge Series, all set within the Church of England. The dominant theme is that of dealing with various spiritual crises.

Grim
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Old 05-14-2004, 10:30 AM
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Well, The Last Temptation of Christ (Nikos Kazantzakis) is a very famous fictional account of Jesus's life. It may not be proper for a church group, though.

Maybe The Robe (Lloyd C. Douglas) would be better. It's about a Roman soldier who wins Jesus's robe gambling. The rest of the story is about his journey to find out more about Christianity, Jesus, etc. I haven't read it myself, but I hear good things.
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Old 05-14-2004, 10:44 AM
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Calculating God by Robert J Sawyer

Sawyer's novel is an excellent exploration into the nature of God, the value of Faith versus Proof, and the place of religion in the universe. All wrapped up in a crackin' good read.

In a nutshell: An alien lands at the Royal Ontario Museum, and demands to speak to an archaeologist. Their joint work reveals that various epoch-type events, like mass extinctions, have occured at precisely the same time on various worlds throughout the galaxy. This seems to indicate a powerful guiding hand...

Great book. My athiest friends and anglican mother both equally enjoyed it.

thwartme

(heh heh... just spell-checked my post and realised I had referred to 'athiest fiends' instead of 'athiest friends'. Not a Freudian slip, honest!)
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Old 05-14-2004, 10:48 AM
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Two by the great Graham Greene:

The Heart of the Matter and The Power and the Glory. Both have strong religious (specifically Catholic, although there's a lot that applies to any Christian denomination) themes, and both are among the greatest modern novels in English. Or the greatest novels ever written, period. Greene is often thought of as the greatest "Catholic" novelist there's ever been.

Brian Moore's Cold Heaven, Black Robe and Catholics all contain religious (again, mostly Catholic) themes.

There's a lot of Reformation stuff in Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver (and its sequel, which just came out, although the title escapes me).

Anthony Burgess wrote a fictional version of the Acts of the Apostles, although I can't remember the title right now.

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is basically a pretty ordinary mystery novel, but it's set in a monastery in the Middel Ages and there's a good deal of religious stuff in there.

Malachi Martin's Windswept House is full of all kinds of Vatican conspiracy stuff, you know, Masons, the anti-Christ, cardinals in league with Satan, that kind of thing. Martin's religious views probably make Mel Gibson's Catholicism look like Unitarianism, but if that's your cup of tea, you might enjoy his books.

Over and out -- that's all I can think of right now.
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Old 05-14-2004, 11:17 AM
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Try Wilton Barnhardt's "Gospel", about a religion professor and grad student who are looking for a lost gospel.
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Old 05-14-2004, 12:38 PM
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How about A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller Jr.? Possibly the best post-apocalyptic novel ever written -- I mean that in the nuclear war sense rather than the scriptural sense, but it is set in a monastery and it certainly addresses issues of faith...
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Old 05-14-2004, 01:08 PM
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Perhaps not the first things that would come to mind, but apropos nonetheless, in my opinion:

While there's hardly any explicit treatment of religion in it, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon is ultimately entirely about the nature of certainty and the inevitability of excluding certain areas of truth from the things we can be certain about -- i.e., things that have to be taken on faith. The extensive use of the contrast between digital and analog communication and signalling systems serves as just one example of this: digital representations of reality rely on the ability to designate things as entirely one thing or another: a zero, or a one, while analog representations allow for reproduction of the infinite gradations in between, at the cost of introducing a much higher likelihood of error. The degree to which things may actually be neither one thing nor another, or both at the same time, is an important theme throughout, mirroring the question of whether humanity is material, divine, neither, or both. The nature of miracles as the interposition of another world into ours is another analogue to this, and the book treats of this as well. The protagonist is forced to confront time and again the impossibility of knowing anything important with absolute certainty, and must choose what to believe in, what to take on faith, with only the most imperfect and incomplete evidence. It's also short (around 275 pp) and a realtively easy read (particularly by the standard of Pynchon's other novels.

One of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita does explicitly deal with religion and matters of faith, redemption, etc.: the premise of the book is that Satan himself turns up in Moscow in the 1920s, wreaking havoc with the lives of many but also serving as an instrument of redemption for certain characters. Interspersed with the chapters set in the Moscow of the 1920s are chapters from an unpublished novel by the otherwise unnamed "Master" of the title about the trial and crucifixion of Christ. It's also a lot of fun to read and quite funny in many places. I should point out that there would no doubt be much for people to take offense at if they're inclined to do so, but that's true of nearly any worthwhile work.
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Old 05-14-2004, 01:56 PM
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How about Jane Eyre ? Yes, a classic, but several faith-based episodes, including some of the most famous ones.

How about Brideshead Revisited ? At least it was a Masterpiece Theatre production, if you need to sell it.
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Old 05-14-2004, 02:14 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by WordMan
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. Link to Amazon Listing
I entered this thread to recommend the exact same book. It's far from the happiest book you'll ever read, but it is well written and is an interesting exploration of the risks of gambling with your faith by looking for signs and a purpose that God never promised.
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Old 05-14-2004, 02:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thwartme
(heh heh... just spell-checked my post and realised I had referred to 'athiest fiends' instead of 'athiest friends'. Not a Freudian slip, honest!)
What's even funnier is that your spellchecker didn't catch the misspelling of "atheist."
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Old 05-14-2004, 03:02 PM
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If they are willing to try a sci-fi book there is A Case of Conscience, by James Blish. It's about a priest dealing with an alien race that apparently is inherently innocent, without being religious. Are they for real, or are they an illusion?
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Old 05-14-2004, 03:20 PM
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How about Father Joseph Girzone's series of Joshua books? Overtly Christian yet not heavy-handed.
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Old 05-14-2004, 03:30 PM
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C. S. Lewis' Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. There is a third novel in the trilogy as well (That Hideous Strength) but it is not as strong as the first two.

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Old 05-14-2004, 03:47 PM
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God On A Harley may fit your needs quite nicely.

Enjoyable read, and quite moving (Plus, the author is a family friend -- Hi Joan! ).
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Old 05-14-2004, 05:50 PM
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The first thing I thought of—and I'm suprised it hasn't been mentioned yet—is A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving.

Others I've liked that might work:
  • Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler
  • Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos
  • the short stories of Flannery O'Connor
  • the fiction of G. K. Chesterton, especially The Man Who Was Thursday (though it may be too far-out for some)
  • Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton, and its sequel, Killer Diller
  • Christy by Catherine Marshall
  • and if you really get ambitious, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky[/i]
I'm sure there are tons more. (Caveat: I'm not a woman, but I think the books listed above would appeal to women as well as, or in some cases more than, to men.)
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Old 05-14-2004, 07:01 PM
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I was going to recommend Calculating God and The Sparrow, the latter much more strongly than the former. The Sparrow is one of the most uniquely thought-provoking books on religious faith I've ever read. I'm not as impressed with the sequel, though: Children of God. It's still worth reading, but it's nowhere near as good as the first one.
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Old 05-14-2004, 07:07 PM
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Orson Scott Card, maybe? A lot of his sci-fi and fantasy stuff touches on religious themes. He's also got a couple of interesting books about Old Testament characters -- the best of these is Sarah.
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Old 05-15-2004, 12:22 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thwartme
(heh heh... just spell-checked my post and realised I had referred to 'athiest fiends' instead of 'athiest friends'. Not a Freudian slip, honest!)
Odd that your spellchecker picked that up at all, given that "fiends" is a word. I think you mean "proofread" ;-)

To answer the OP, you asked for "faith-related" but you didn't specify if it had to be Christian faith-related. I kinda got the impression it did, but if not, The Satanic Verses is an excellent (if long) read which approaches faith from a dozen different directions.

(it's sorta about the revelation of the Qu'ran, in case you were wondering)
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Old 05-15-2004, 12:38 AM
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John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of the best books about faith I've ever read, and it's done in a completely non-religious way.

I'd also recommend [i]The Autobiography of Malcolm X[/b] for a look at the transformative nature of finding faith.
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Old 05-15-2004, 03:01 AM
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You are so looking for Walker Percy's The Moviegoer and Douglas Coupland's Life After God. Both are very, very secular explorations of near-deafening, Kierkegaardian forays into faith. Brilliant.
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Old 05-15-2004, 03:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LMM
Two by the great Graham Greene:

The Heart of the Matter and The Power and the Glory. Both have strong religious (specifically Catholic, although there's a lot that applies to any Christian denomination) themes, and both are among the greatest modern novels in English. Or the greatest novels ever written, period. Greene is often thought of as the greatest "Catholic" novelist there's ever been.
Brighton Rock, also by Greene, is another book to consider. It contains of of my favorite quotes:

Quote:
You can't conceive...nor can I, or anyone...the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God
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Old 05-15-2004, 07:43 AM
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I would suggest just about any book by Madeleine L'Engle. One of my all time favorite books is A Wrinkle In Time .

Also, my book group just read Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Very allegorical, a lot of religious elements in it.
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Old 05-15-2004, 08:21 AM
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Right. I was supposed to read The Moviegoer a while ago. I should see if it's in print.

Second vote for A Canticle For Leibowitz. It's very good.
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Old 05-15-2004, 08:47 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gail
Also, my book group just read Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Very allegorical, a lot of religious elements in it.
The book group at my church read that one. We had a great time discussing it.
We also read Peace Like A River by Leif Enger and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd. Both were very good books.
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Old 05-15-2004, 09:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LMM

Anthony Burgess wrote a fictional version of the Acts of the Apostles, although I can't remember the title right now.

.
THE KINGDOM OF THE WICKED, which is kinda his novelization of his screenplay for the NBC miniseries A.D., kinda a sequel to JESUS OF NAZARETH, for which he also wrote the screenplay & inspired his novel MAN OF NAZARETH.

Btw, Burgess also hoped to do the screenplay for a Conversion of Constantine miniseries to complete a trilogy- no idea if he actually did any work on it.
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Old 05-15-2004, 09:33 AM
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A second vote for Ann Tyler, Saint Maybe.

Dorothy Sayers' mystery novels also frequently had elements of faith and conscience, and are very well written.
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Old 05-15-2004, 09:36 AM
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I second Walker Percy- he was a great Southern Gothic Catholic social satirist-
(tho THE MOVIEGOER is the one novel of his I have not read-)

I have read-
THE LAST GENTLEMAN, which I didn't care for & don't recall much of;

it's sequel THE SECOND COMING about a middle-aged man whose chemical imbalance leads to an obsession about the title subject & how his quest leads him into the arms of a young emotionally-withdrawn woman (I liked it much better)

LANCELOT- a man confesses to his best friend, now a psychiatrist/priest, of how he sought to confirm God's existence by committing real sin- also rrecommended

LOVE IN THE RUINS- my personal favorite, subtitle The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World, brilliant but somewhat dated (& occasionally prophetic) social satire of early 70s political & religious division

THE THANATOS SYNDROME- LitR's decent but lesser sequel. Deals with lots of life-termination & mind manipulation issues.

LOST IN THE COSMOS- The Last Self-Help Book- humorous philosphical-theological-sci-fi observation of life

Two books of essays- THE MESSAGE IN THE BOTTLE and SIGNPOSTS IN A STRANGE LAND- pretty good but not what I would start with.

I'd start with 2nd Coming, Love/Ruins & Lancelot.
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Old 05-15-2004, 09:48 AM
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More recommendations-

C.S. Lewis- TILL WE HAVE FACES a dark challenging retelling of the Eros & Psyche myth, not as overtly Christian as most of his fiction (Btw, tho I've heard other make the same comment of THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH that Shodan has, I have the opposite view. THS is the best of the three IMO.)

Also by Lewis- THE GREAT DIVORCE- a Journey into the Afterlife

Various novels by Father Andrew Greeley, mystery/romances- usually based around a screwed-up Irish Catholic man & a screwed-up Irish Catholic woman thrown together by a screwed-up Irish Catholic God.

DEAR AND GLORIOUS PHYSICIAN by Taylor Caldwell- The Greek physician Luke wages war against an uncaring God by helping the victims of His negligence, then he meets some who claim He has become a man... Kinda overwrought but I like it.

Jame BeauSeigneur THE CHRIST CLONE TRILOGY- In His Image, Birth of an Age, Acts of God- an truly literate exciting & intriguing End Times saga, would be the best selling series rather than LEFT BEHIND if the mass reading public had any taste.

Aldous Huxley BRAVE NEW WORLD

Jan Karon's MITFORD novels- Old Episcopal priest Father Tim & his new wife deal with tragedies & challenges & friendship & happiness in a small Southern town.
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Old 05-15-2004, 11:56 AM
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Others have recommended various works of science fiction and/or fantasy, but here's an online list: http://www.spectacle.org/396/scifi/pavlac2.html
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Old 05-15-2004, 01:09 PM
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You may want to look at a short story collection by Flannery O'Connor. All of her short stories deals with faith in one form or another.
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Old 05-15-2004, 08:42 PM
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Old 05-15-2004, 10:17 PM
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C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters. Great, humorous view on the trials and temptations of the Christian life from the "other side". And, if she doesn't mind slightly more Christian-type writing, the "Narnia" series.

Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles has a number of Christian-type stories.

And what's wrong with reading the Bible? Sure, some of those genealogies might run a little dry, but the narrative portions are pretty exciting. And some people consider that to be fiction, too, but let's not go there.
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Old 05-17-2004, 09:51 AM
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Thanks for all the suggestions. There are some very good ones here. I'll run them by her and see what she thinks.
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Old 05-17-2004, 02:26 PM
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They may also enjoy the trillogy from Marjorie Holmes on the life of Christ.

Two from Galilee Mary and Joseph's story
Three from Galilee The begining of Jesus' ministry
The Messiah the final days of Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection.

Or The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

The Women of Genesis books by Orson Scott Card are good as are the Lineage of Grace series by Francine Rivers.

I also love Skeleton in God's Closet and More than a Skeleton by Paul Maier. Great gripping reads.
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