Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Tall Tales: A Healthy Reading Diet (Part One)

We were not brought up according to the government-made healthy eating guide. I remember in home ec. fumbling through an assignment to plan a week's worth of meals, where each day received the required portion of servings from the pyramid. Let's just say that towards the end of the hypothetical week I was missing a few grains and vegetables. (Honestly--6-11 servings a day?! Before we went politically correct, of course, and now it's two cups of vegetables per person, per day. )
As I thought about this, I went off on a side-tangent in the area of reading. Many of us try to conform our reading to politically correct amounts of 'so much fiction', 'so much nonfiction', and a couple of romances for 'discretionary calories'. Nonfiction, by the way, would be in the fruits and vegetables slot.
I'd like to see anyone eat two cups of carrots every day.
The following article contains some of my thoughts regarding a healthy literary diet, starting with each type of book, debunking myths, and laying forth healthy eating principles. It is not meant to be a flawless authority, but simply a selection of six categories and twelve principles to help you break free from politically correct literary expectations.
The Book Groups
Here are six workable definitions for a literary food group:
1. Grains
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Literary 'grains' include themes of hard work, family commitment, the dominion mandate, and pioneer living. Parents discipling children, school, church, and the cycle of birth to death are absolute musts that we should be constantly reminded of. Spiritual literary 'grains' are God's sovereignty, His creation, His salvation, and His character--the qualities undergirding our existence. Such authors as Jane Austen, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Gene Stratton-Porter fall into this category.

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody. --1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
In other words, literary 'grains' are plots including a quiet life and the work of our hands.
2. Vegetables
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Literary 'vegetables' include factual information. Astronomy, medicine, biology, geography and names and dates of history comprise facts, as well as many other things not mentioned here. Vegetables are not to be despised, for they are often used in fiction to set the scene by describing ship's instruments during a sea battle, or to picture the breath-taking Scottish coast in a MacDonald romance.

And you thought they were so bad. ;)

Spiritual literary 'vegetables' include the basic groundwork of theology and doctrine: sacraments (baptism, marriage, communion, etc.) eschatology, apologetics, Christology, ecclesiology, and missiology are all sub-divisions of basic Christian doctrine, and vital ingredients for a healthy book.

Books in this category are often banished to the school realm; but some authors including Edwin Way Teale (nature) Dietrich Bonhoeffer (theology) and Michael Oard (creationism), give us the vegetables of facts and theology in an engaging and valuable way.   
3. Fruits
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If vegetables engage the mind, it is the duty of the fruit to engage the senses. Music, art, mythology, fashion, principles of literature, and descriptions for the five senses are all encompassed in literary fruits. Often fiction uses both fruits and vegetables to good purpose; for instance, in Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, you're going to get both dates and facts surrounding the rise of Napoleon, and elegant dinners that engage all the senses to simply read about them.
Spiritual literary 'fruits' take the vegetables of fact and turn them into personal application. Relationship advice and biblical modesty, principles of music, and biblical fashion techniques fit this description, for relationships take theological principles and force people to act them out in the physical world. A 'vegetable' is the definition of meekness. A 'fruit' is the application of meekness.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.--Galatians 5:22-23
Authors such as Jane Austen are good at incorporating cultural delights into their everyday stories.
4. Dairy
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Dairy in the physical diet gives calcium, carbohydrates, and healthy sources of fat. This is an essential part of good literature, for even though it doesn't have a physical equivalent, dairy often gives the feeling of satisfaction or fullness after a good meal. Literary 'dairy' means that each book has the right ending for the story, even if the ending is not necessarily a happy one. 'Dairy' also means (for fiction) that the book is realistic, so that we can believe our favorite characters actually exist (kind of). For nonfiction, it means that the facts are engaging, interesting, and applicable. Dairy is often used in real cooking to hold together the ingredients from other categories, and the same is true in literature. Dairy means good plotting, good grammar, and good characterization.
5. Proteins
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 I place adventure in this category. Taking dominion, fighting battles, and grappling with evil by the throat. While 'grains' keep a civilization going, 'proteins' keep a civilization strong. There is a time for war as well as a time for peace, and time and again God raises His people up to abolish evil. Actually, physical and spiritual proteins are much the same thing, for war is partly a spiritual thing. Therefore, war, missions, espionage, and social reform are all vital proteins for a healthy literary diet. Such authors as Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Douglas Bond fall into this category.
6. Sweets
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We often describe literary sweets as things like marriage, physical desire, dating/courtship, adventure, etc. However, I would like to give them a different definition, for I consider marriage and adventure to be in two very different and essential categories. (Grains and Protein). Sweets are twaddle--marriage/dating for pleasure instead of dominion,  soupy theology, fake Christian moralizing, and any book that doesn't ring true.
So here we have all the ingredients necessary for a healthy reading diet. But the wrong cooking technique, poor quality, or the wrong amounts can send a good diet south. Next Tuesday we'll be studying twelve application principles for healthy reading.
Lady Bibliophile
P.S. Yesterday some of you may have celebrated the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice. I'm stretching my celebration out to encompass the entire year, so look for a review of this famous novel in the next few weeks on My Lady Bibliophile!


  1. Dear Lady B,
    I'm glad we don't read much twaddle. But can't there be "healthy" sweets in literary diet? Like good homemade brownies or the best chocolate cookies in the world?
    On a side note about non-fiction: I would classify the non-fiction Living Forest Series as a sweet vegetable. Maybe a tomato. or a zucchini. Just joking. :D I do think Sam Campbell does do a good job in making non-fiction sweet though.
    I thought this was an excellent post. Which category does fiction go under? You'll have to help me put my books under each catogory. ;)
    I love it when your posts have to do a little bit with writing. I think this one could apply.
    Can't wait to hear Part 2! :D :D :D
    Love, Sister

    1. *facepalm* Yes, there can be healthy sweets, of course there can. I forgot that bit, and only identified the high fructose corn syrup kind. :) I will try to include that in my next post.

      Fiction goes under many categories, which you will learn about next Tuesday. ;)

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      Love and cuddles,

  2. Very creative idea on using the food pyramid concept to explain reading choices.

    It's very applicable, though--we are "nourished" by what we read, and sometimes we are not balanced and read too much of one thing. Kind of like the good Captain Benwick in Persuasion. Or Catherine Moreland in Northanger Abbey (hey--kind of a Jane Austen theme going here!).

    It's fun making the comparisons!

    1. Thank-you. :) Oh, yes, I had forgotten about Captain Benwick and Catherine Moreland. They would make great examples for my next post!

  3. Fun analogy! Still, with your previous commenter, I want to stick up for sweets. I believe that even unhealthy sweets can be good for you, or good for your soul. I think of them as a food equivalent of the rejoicing tithe, which is about buying what your heart desires and trusting God for the rest. Of course, one shouldn't buy evil things, eat poison, or read truly wrong things. But there's room for purely sensational and self-indulgent reading like, oh, The Prisoner of Zenda or The Curse of Capistrano.

  4. I had fun writing this post. :)

    Ah, yes, what would we do without the sweets of liturature? You and Junior B bring up a very good point; I think it deserves further elaboration. :)


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