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Why Christians should learn to love fiction

Tuesday, December 5, 2017, 16:42 (IST)

It is a question that really tested me. What five books have changed your life, excluding the Bible? It was a test because the question threw me back to different times in my life and the books and people in them. I have met some of my best friends, and some of the most real people I've ever known, in books.

I read fiction for at least an hour an every day. It was a tip from a spiritual director that started it: 'Stop reading Christian books, you are getting bogged down,' he said. 'Go back to fiction.' And so I did.

I was the same advice given to F W Boreham, who was to become the Christian writer of choice for many. Boreham was bogged down and depressed and thinking of giving up the ministry. His preaching was stale and his faith was in tatters. He put away the commentaries and the Christian books and switched to fiction and in doing so he found his own voice and inspiration.

Fiction is wonderful. To understand my own journey we have to go back to the '70s and a tough comprehensive in Northolt. My English teachers were old-school. They were believers in Professor F R Leavis' view that good fiction made us better people. In an age of postmodernism, I actually still believe this. I feel that reading good fiction has shaped me, helped me to walk around in the skin of others.

So, what are your favourite five top works of fiction and how have they changed you?

Here are mine. As a boy I was desperate for big stories and escape. I read Lord of Rings every summer. I could go back into that place and meet people who had become my friends. I couldn't fail but notice that wizards led from the front. And this big story opened me up to the big story I found later in my Bible.

To Kill a Mockingbird is clever because it allows us to see the adult world through the eyes of a child, Scout. I wanted to learn to walk around in others' shoes in order to understand, as Atticus advised. And I longed to be Atticus in real life. This story taught me the grandeur of truth and the value of standing up to racism and wrong.

When I read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith I did not want it to end. That beautiful dysfunctional family captivated me and the sheer pain of love struck home. And when I found it was written by a desperate and homesick Smith, wrestling with US stardom but falling apart inside, it had even more resonance.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is John Irvine's only masterpiece. Owen is a Christ-figure and the book is so vivid and conversational you feel you are right there.

And finally there is Never let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguru. The book tells a heart-rending tale and it does it slowly and beautifully. It talks of the weakness of culture to withstand evil and the way that life is precious.

When I gave my five to my wife she said: 'Interesting, they are all books for seekers and all off-centre...they are beautiful.' I do hope so.

So come on, join the challenge. If you don't read any fiction, get started. If you do, what are your hot five?

Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter@SteveMorris214