My book Reading Between the Lines: A Christian Guide to Literature has been re-issued in an updated format. The publishers, Crossway Books, asked me to write about the book for their blog, which I did.
Here is an excerpt that tells a little bit about the book:
Marvin Olasky was editing a series of books relating Christianity to various fields, which would become Crossway’s Turning Point Series. He asked me to write one about literature. I had already done some writing about Christianity and the arts and Christianity and culture. But literature was my real specialty and teaching literature as an English professor was my day job. So I threw myself into the task. Though I had published some academic scholarship in the field, I knew this book needed to be cast for a broader audience. At the same time, I didn’t want it to be simplistic and elementary. I wanted to put down what I had learned myself, not only about but from literature, and to express some of the insights I had discovered about literary art and its relationship to God’s design.
The book, which came out in 1990, is sort of a distillation of my teaching, my research, and my theories about literature. Here I explore the nature of comedy (in the medieval sense of a story that begins in pain but ends in joy) and of tragedy (in both the medieval sense of a story that begins in joy and ends in pain and in the classical sense of the fall of a noble hero because of hamartia, a word that critics translate as “tragic flaw” but that is simply the New Testament word for “sin”). Here I delve into different modes of literature, such as realism and fantasy, discussing why Christian authors have so often favored fantasy. I try to explain how to read poetry, which I define as literature written in lines, and I defend fiction from the charge that it isn’t true. Helping me with that last point was Sir Phillip Sydney, and I draw on, introduce, and elucidate lots and lots of great authors, whom I try to help my readers befriend. . . .
There are, of course, other issues that have come up in literary studies since I wrote the book, and there are new writers, Christian and otherwise, that would deserve mention if I were writing it today. But this book still reflects my approach to literature. In fact, if my college students today wanted to understand more fully what I’m talking about in class—say, in studying for a final, making up for a class they missed, or making sense of a lecture—they could read this book. That might give them an unfair advantage, so I won’t tell them of that option. I’m assuming they won’t be reading this blog.
There is more at the link. Seriously, college students that want to figure out their professor would do well to read what the professor has written. But hardly any students think of that. Maybe at least some of mine do. (Actually, as I say in the extended version, this particular title is used by quite a few homeschoolers as part of their literature curriculum. So some of my students may have already read this book years ago!)
Crossway sent out the new version of the book, unbeknownst to me, to some Christian scholars and writers in an attempt to get some blurbs. I was deeply moved by what some of these people said, especially since I happen to hold these individuals in high esteem. Now, I hate doing this and am very embarrassed about it, but please indulge me in sharing what they said:
“Reading Between the Lines is thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly literate—a magnificent blending of history, literature, and theology that will be welcomed by professionals and laity alike.”
—Wayne Martindale, Professor of English, Wheaton College; author, Beyond the Shadowlands: C. S. Lewis on Heaven and Hell
“What a superb resource this is! It resonates with profound perceptions of how good literature works to enrich and illuminate us. Dr. Veith proves himself once again to be a knowledgeable guide through the landscape of the written word.”
—Luci Shaw, author, God in the Dark and Polishing the Petoskey Stone
“Veith has written on important topics with his usual clarity, good sense, organizing ability, and comprehensiveness. The scope of this project is impressive.”
—Leland Ryken, author, The ESV and the English Bible Legacy
“Veith makes it clear that the joys of reading can be deep joys of the type which can enliven our souls. This book should raise significantly the cultural level of evangelicalism.”
—Edward E. Ericson Jr., professor emeritus of English, Calvin College
My friend Wayne Martindale says it’s “a magnificent blending,” for “professionals and laity alike,” using laity to refer not to church members but to non-English teachers! My favorite contemporary Christian poet Luci Shaw says it “resonates” and that I’m a “knowledgeable guide”! Lee Ryken cites my “usual clarity” and “good sense”! Ed Ericson says that my book will “raise significantly the cultural level of evangelicalism”!
How hard for me to take seriously, but how kind! Thanks for those words.