This past week, by coincidence, I happened to visit two different sources talking about whether or not a book can really change a person. My first, gut reaction was: Of course a book can change a person! Isn’t that the method God chose by sending us the Bible? How many lives have been changed by that book?
But what about ordinary books, not holy? Even the highest recommendation a friend can give—this book changed my life—is really only proven over a long period of time. The arguments I read recently stated it’s rare, if ever, that a book really does change anyone’s life for the long haul.
What really changes people, one argument said, was other people. Relationships. When I think back on the biggest changes in my life, I suppose this is true. Family relationships helped to mold me; marriage helped to grow me into responsibility; motherhood helped me look beyond my own needs in a new way. Discovering a medical disorder in my life also changed me, but since it was revealed within the context of motherhood, this, too, was a change brought about through relationship. If I’d learned I was a carrier for a Fragile X Syndrome but never had a child affected by this, my life wouldn’t have changed.
Underneath the relationships I can point to choices I’ve made, friendships that have endured and behavior I’ve learned that did come from what I’ve learned in the Bible. But apart from that book, I can’t name any other volume that has truly changed me.
I know many books have influenced me, particularly after reading multiple books that share some similarities. When I was first published thirty years ago, I read a lot of romance novels and ended up writing several. Later, after I rededicated my life to the foundational truths I’d learned in the Bible, I studied Christian novels to see what that market looked like. Life changed after getting published in the Christian market because it became a job to me, but this change wasn’t from one specific book.
The nonfiction books I’ve read, the devotionals, the books that explain and support the Bible have also influenced me, but in a more cumulative sense than specific.
So after mulling this a bit, I must admit I came away a little disheartened. And here I’d hoped Christian novels might change someone! Yet after examining my personal experience, which is supported by the recent claims of others, I must believe otherwise.
Why do I write, then? I’ve always said I write because I’m a reader, and I read to be entertained, and maybe learn something along the way. Is that enough?
More examination allows me to say Yes with a lot more enthusiasm than I might have earlier. We all know life isn’t easy, so if Christian novels provide a safe escape, then I’m all for that even if the escape is only temporary. If one Christian novel doesn’t change anyone, perhaps regular consumption of them will, simply by making life a little more enjoyable and in a way that honors God.