by Brenda S. Cox
“Oh! It is only a novel!” replies the young lady, while she lays down her book with affected indifference, or momentary shame. It is only . . . some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” —Northanger Abbey
“What else do you read besides Jane Austen?” a new friend asked me recently. The answer is, lots and lots of books! I love books that are deep, that touch my heart and soul, as well as books that are light and fun. Here are some of my favorite authors.
You probably know her as the author of A Wrinkle in Time, which is a great book, in my opinion. I love the way she mingles science, faith, and fantasy with important truths. I love all her Young Adult novels—The Time Quintet, the Austin Family Chronicles, and more. A Swiftly Tilting Planet, built around St. Patrick’s Rune, is one of my favorites. Her novels for adults I don’t like quite as well. The Twenty-Four Days before Christmas is a lovely Christmas story that I like to read to my grandchildren.
I also love Madeleine L’Engle’s nonfiction—The Crosswicks Journals and Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage, that give some of her autobiography; Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, which I love as a writer; and her spiritual meditations, like The Genesis Trilogy (And It Was Good, A Stone for a Pillow, and Sold Into Egypt), Bright Evening Star, and Penguins and Golden Calves. I don’t always agree with all that she says, but she always challenges me and brings me to think more deeply.
L. M. Montgomery
Of course you know the Anne of Green Gables series. I only discovered these as an adult. I was visiting my cousin, who has even more books than I do, and picked up Anne of Green Gables. My cousin was amazed that I hadn’t read it, and insisted I take that volume with me; I still have it! And when I discovered there were seven more books in the series, I soon got them from the library, then bought them for myself. And eventually I came to own all of her novels as well as lots of her short stories.
My favorites now are The Blue Castle, about a young woman who only pursues her dreams when she thinks she’s dying (and has nothing to lose!), and the Emily of New Moon series, about an aspiring writer. But really I love them all. L.M. Montgomery’s stories give us insights into human nature, courage, forgiveness, and humility. And they’re fun and funny, as well! (And just so you know, Rachel Dodge, who gave us Praying With Jane, is working on a new devotional based on L. M. Montgomery’s work! I can’t wait.)
Here’s an author you may not know, although she was very popular in the last century. I was introduced to her a few years ago when a counselor-friend of mine shared with me a prayer from one of Goudge’s novels: “Lord, please forgive. Thee I adore. Into Thy hands.” That prayer has stuck with me, sometimes as an outline for things to pray about, and sometimes just as a prayer when I’m out of other words.
Goudge’s novels are beautifully written, bringing you into some of the loveliest places in the world, and deep with meaning. She intertwines faith, history, life lessons, and a great joy in nature (which L.M. Montgomery has also, of course!). Each one is truly a work of art. Like Austen, she was an Anglican Christian whose father was a clergyman. But she lived longer and wrote many more books than Austen, which is a great blessing to us!
Recommended to start with: The Scent of Water (source of the above prayer) and The Dean’s Watch. Elizabeth Goudge also wrote historical novels as well as spiritual collections of prayers and quotes. If you fall in love with her writing, as I did, read as many of her novels as you can find! And after that, I recommend the biography Beyond the Snow: The Life and Faith of Elizabeth Goudge, by Christine Rawlins, which intertwines passages from Goudge’s books with the story of her life.
Penelope Wilcock is another writer whose books are lovely and have deep messages. Her series of nine novels begins with The Hawk and the Dove, the story of an abbot in a medieval monastery who seems to have everything. But when he is crippled, he has to painfully learn lessons of humility and what it means to follow the Christ who suffered.
Each book in the series adds powerful and touching lessons learned by the abbot and the monks. In the first book, a mother is telling the stories to her children, and she also tells them a story of an elephant that is afraid of a mouse. The moral is that there is great strength in weakness!
Just for Fun
All right, all of those books are great reads and they all have a more serious side. But what do I read just for fun?
I only discovered mysteries when my kids were young and we had limited library options, so I tried Agatha Christie and was hooked! I’ve gone through cycles of:
Dorothy Sayers (a serious Christian),
Elizabeth Peters (Victorian-era Egyptologist Amelia Peabody is great fun! Also her other stand-alone titles and the Vicky Bliss series are entertaining),
Ellis Peters (medieval monks again, with Brother Cadfael solving mysteries), and
Josephine Tey (each of her mysteries are very different, but all good!).
Science Fiction and Fantasy
I used to read lots of science fiction, all the classics like Isaac Asimov, Andre Norton, and Ray Bradbury (and of course Madeleine L’Engle). Nowadays I don’t read so much of it, but some of my favorites in recent years are:
Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series (I don’t usually like anything with wars, but this spunky heroine won me over!)
Anne McCaffrey’s dragon series and other books, of course. My favorites are the Dragon Song, Dragon Singer, Dragon Drums series and the Crystal Singer series. Her later books got a little repetitious, and the collaborations I’m not excited about.
Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians series, which my oldest son introduced me to, is great fun, though the last book in the series is a little disappointing.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, about cloning, is much more serious.
Amin Maalouf’s The First Century After Beatrice, about what happens when Third World countries can select the gender of their children, is also very serious, but an important book, I think. Maalouf, from Lebanon, has also written some excellent historical novels including Samarkand, and a short nonfiction book I think everyone should read called In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.
(Caveat: It’s been awhile since I read these, but some of these SF&F titles may not be totally “clean,” sorry. Moon, McCaffrey, and Ishiguro may have some scenes that some might find somewhat objectionable.)
Oh, were you looking for romance? Jane Austen’s books are so much more than romance . . .
But for straight romance, Georgette Heyer is the best, in my humble opinion. Regency romance with lots of wit and humor, beautifully written. I love all her books. She shows a later, more upper-class Regency, not avoiding its seamy side that Jane Austen only refers to off-stage.
And of course there are lots of good Jane Austen variations. I’ve reviewed a number of ones I like on this site.
This list is mostly fiction, but I also read nonfiction. I think it’s good to have a balance of fiction and nonfiction, and I’m usually reading some of each. But we’ll save the nonfiction for another time.
Did you notice most of my favorite authors are women? I read somewhere that women tend to relate best to women writers. Perhaps we’re more likely to find common ground, to experience similar emotions and situations, to think in similar ways. Anyway, for me the authors who most inspire me are usually (but not always) women.
What we read can build us up or tear us down. What authors do you enjoy who encourage you, help you think more deeply and truly, help you grow into a better person? Please share them with us!