Can Fiction Draw us to Holiness?


Jessica Hooton Wilson has written a book about books. If you love books like I do, this should immediately catch your interest. More specifically, she has written a book about books that challenge us to examine what it means to be formed in the image of God. If you love Jesus, this book should sound even more interesting! And I can testify after reading it that it is.

The Scandal of Holiness: Renewing Your Imagination in the Company of Literary Saints encourages us see how spending time with characters in great novels can deepen our understanding of what it means to be holy, and can do it in unexpected (sometimes scandalous) ways. But this is not a theoretical book. Jessica spends most of her time looking at specific books and what they have meant to her.

Some of the books she highlights I have already read, and I found her analysis of themes to be insightful and helpful. Others I have heard of but never gotten around to reading, and still others were new to me. So now I have a long list of books to pursue. I am already part way through two of the books she discusses that I had never considered reading before.

Jessica discusses a set of books in depth, but as icing on the cake, she includes a list of other books that deal with similar topics at the end of each chapter. So there is room for a lot of exploration.

I am thankful for this encouragement to read good books. I am listing the books she references here to whet your curiosity and as a reference for me when I finish the two I am currently reading. Maybe you will find one interesting too!

Reading from The Scandal of Holiness

1. Holy Foolishness

Focus: Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin

Further Reading: Godric by Frederick Buechner
Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor
Christina the Astonishing by Kirstin Valdez Quade

2. Communion of Saints

Focus: That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis (and Abolition of Man)

Further Reading: The Thanatos Syndrome by Walker Percy
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
War in Heaven by Charles Williams
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

3 Creation Care as a Holy Calling

Focus: The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin

Further Reading: Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry
The River Why by James David Duncan
The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

4. Liberating Prophets

Focus: Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neal Hurston
In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alverez

Further Reading: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Beloved  by Toni Morrison
The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

5. Virgin, Bride, Mother

Focus: Kristen Lavransdatter by Sigred Undset

Further Reading: Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Children of Men by P. D. James
Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich
The Wife of Pilate by Gertrud von Le Fort

6. Contemplative and Active Life

Focus: The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos

Further Reading: Mr. Palomar by Italo Calvino
Peace like a River by Leif Enger
Island of the Innocent by Diane Glancy
Morte d’Urban by J. F. Powers

7. Sharing in His Suffering

Focus: The End of the Affair and The Power and the Glory by Graham Green
The Violent Bear it Away by Flannery O’Connor, Greenleaf (short story)

Further Reading: The Woman Who Was Poor by Léon Bloy
Beggar’s Feast by Randy Boyagoda
Silence by Shūsaku Endō
Exiles by Ron Hansen

8. Ars Moriendi

Focus: A Lesson before Dying by Ernest Gains
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Further Reading: A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt
Viper’s Tangle by François Mauriac
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy


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