Aug 22, 2014

“She’s on Her Last Breath”

by Katie Schuermann

I need to confess something.

I’m a writer, but my reading resumé is a flat tire. No matter how many times I try pumping it up with a sturdy pair of bellows like The Brothers Karamazov or Heart of Darkness, noisy air hisses embarrassingly out the tell-tale hole created by the rusty nail of my meager literary beginnings.


The first chapter book I read was about a bunny. I can’t remember the plot or the names of any of the characters, but I can remember sitting in the afternoon sunlight of my grandmother’s living room, smug as a pug on a rug to be turning the final page in my very first “big” book.

But let’s put everything in perspective, shall we?

“I read Homer’s Odyssey when I was eight,” Mr. Classical Education enlightens us all with one hand around a Scotch and the other tucked neatly into his smoking jacket.

“Oh, yes, I do love the Classics,” Ms. Princeton Pretentious pontificates over her apple martini, touching her string of pearls and lifting her civilized chin. “But nothing compares to one’s first pass through Anna Karenina.”


This is the point in the conversation where I hide behind my glass of the house red and repent. You see, I grew up reading inconsequential serial books like The Baby-Sitters’ Club, Sweet Valley Twins, and (I’m shuddering to even type the word) Couples, a series which focuses on the coupling and uncoupling of various students at a typical high school. I had never heard of sophisticated Russian heroines, let alone “passed” through a thousand pages of them.

And it wasn’t my parents’ fault. They were generous, even evangelical, in their mission to raise a family of readers. They signed me and my sisters up for a summer reading program at the local public library; they gave us stipends to purchase books at our school-sponsored Scholastic fairs; they made sure we each had a Bible and Luther’s Small Catechism to use in church and at home; they even filled their own shelves with encyclopedias and favorite leather-bound volumes. It’s just that I—whenever presented with Neo’s choice—always went for the easy-to-swallow blue pill.

It wasn’t until high school English class that I bit into such meaty portions as The Scarlet Letter, Lord of the Flies, Pride and Prejudice, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Huck Finn. Thank God for Hester, Piggy, Mr. Darcy, Scout, and Ben! They took me to places those silly high school couples never could.

Yet, this is where the plot of my literary adventure thickens, for every hero needs a foe, every good protagonist a foil. In my bookish gluttony, I failed to stick to the balanced diet prescribed by Drs. Hawthorne, Golding, Austen, Lee, and Twain. On the side, I snuck sugary snacks prepared by respected Christian authors such as Janette Oke.

Oh, now, that’s not so bad, you may be thinking.

Oh, but it is. Here’s why.

After reading Christian fiction book #507, I found my sixteen-year-old self sitting on the floor of my rainbow-papered bedroom in doubt of my Christian identity. Was I really a Christian? I mean, I knew I’d been baptized into Christ and everything; and I knew I believed Jesus to be the Son of God and my Savior from sin; but I’d never actually asked Jesus to be my personal Savior like all of those characters in the books I’d been reading; I’d never actually made a decision to accept Jesus into my heart like all of them; I’d never stood at the helm of my Faith and called myself its captain.

And that’s when I did it. That’s when I changed my practice to fit someone else’s doctrine. That’s when I put my trust in the mob mentality of the Christian fiction industry rather than in the faithful teachings of my church. That’s when I bowed my head, knelt on my blue carpet (because that’s what all of those other pious characters did), asked Jesus to be my Savior (as if He hadn’t already been my faithful Lord and Savior all of my silly, sinful life) and committed my pittance of a heart to Him.

God, forgive me.

In hindsight, I still grieve for the foolishness of that sixteen-year-old girl. How can we who know better not expect her and every other under-read teenager to fall prey to the heavy-handed, Arminian doctrine being practiced by every “wholesome” character in every “wholesome” book flying under the “wholesome” banner of Christian fiction? How can we not expect her and others to doubt her Baptism and flee the mighty fortress of confessional Lutheranism when there are so few—so very, very few—faithful Christian novels out there which simply tell a good story?

Because that’s all that blue-pill-swallowing sixteen-year-old was craving. Just a good story.

Thankfully, this is the point in my paperback journey where a swarm of bookish heroes swoop in on flying horses, rescuing the dumb damsel in distress and delivering her safely to a wiser, better-read adulthood.

A college friend gave me an exquisitely illustrated edition of The Chronicles of Narnia, and I finally got around to reading the beloved series in graduate school. My husband introduced me to The Lord of the Rings the first year of our marriage, and a faithful pastor gave me his copy of Koenig’s Except the Corn Die. Next came a life-changing read-through of Giertz’s The Hammer of God, and I stumbled upon a sale of all eight books in the Anne of Green Gables series at Half-Priced Books. Then, there was the anthology of James Herriot’s humorous veterinary adventures that my grandparents no longer wanted, and a sage friend suggested I check out Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River from the library.

I devoured these Christian fictional treasures. I even reread a couple of them, something I rarely, if ever, do. And, let me tell you, there is no going back. I’ve finally swallowed the red pill, and I want more of these rich stories about honor, self-sacrifice, valor, faithfulness, and forgiveness which peel back the Matrix and help me see the world for what it really is. I want to lose myself in a good story which satisfies my imagination, challenges my intellect, broadens my horizons, and whets my theological appetite without demanding I walk the plank of my church’s confessions.

The only problem is that the Christian fiction genre offers very few such books.

Now, we’ve established that I’m not the smartest, most cultivated reader on the block—I’m an author who’s driving her career on a flat tire, after all—but even I can tell when a dying genre is in need of resuscitation.


***

Katie Schuermann is no paramedic, but she's trying her hand at some literary resuscitation this fall. Look for her first Christian fiction book, House of Living Stones, coming out this November through Concordia Publishing House.



Title Image: "Girl Reading" by Edmund Tarbell, 1909


6 comments:

  1. My comment was lost, so sorry if this ends up being a double post.

    Great topic!

    I didn't read the babysitter's club, or other teen series like that (I was actually a snob about that), but I did read a plethora of books written in the 60s and 70s for "Young Adults" which definitely cultivated melancholy and introspection (the bad kind). A TON--in the summer 1-2 a day. Before that I read all the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books, which although also morally OK, pretty vapid and formulaic. I stopped reading the Mandie series when Joe and Mandie's relationship never went anywhere or changed.

    Could you please explain the red and blue pill references to someone who hasn't seen the Matrix?

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  2. Bravo, Katie! I admire your spunk and wish you many happy years discovering more and more books, and writing them, too! I myself seem to have read very little until I had children, and then there was so little time to catch up. Now I'm old enough to not worry about that.
    (I also haven't seen "The Matrix.")

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  3. Greetings in Christ, Katy and Gretchen:

    I find myself wanting to be more like both of you - both in having a higher standard for book-reading and in being so busy with children as to not have time to read. Life under the cross is both rich and painful, isn't it?

    As for the Matrix metaphor, it'll make the most sense if you just go ahead and watch the whole movie. However, if you search for "matrix blue pill" on youtube, I'm pretty sure a certain, telltale scene will come up. ;)

    Happy reading, and, if you have any good book suggestions for me, please send them my way!

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  4. As I read this article, I was thinking "I really like how she writes, and we do need more good reads that don't exhaust us with the subtle attacks by modern evangelicalism on the pure doctrine. She should write something!" I'm so glad to hear that you are, and I hope I'll get a chance to read it.

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  5. Thanks, Bethanie! I hope you like HOUSE OF LIVING STONES whenever you get a chance to read it. I sure enjoyed writing it!

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  6. Read the trilogy about Kristen Lavransdatter.

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