In this series of blog posts, I give strategies for finding “clean reads” that go beyond relying on curated book lists. Please see “Part 1: The Toxic Sea” for a list of resources to help you find books that others think are clean, “Part 2: Know Where to Fish” to learn what types of books will be least likely to contain profanity, graphic sex and violence, and immoral themes, “Part 3: Sort through the Catch” to find tips for evaluating the books you find, and “Part 4: Enjoy the Harvest!” for ideas on how to read widely and wholesomely without going broke.
There have been many stories in the news lately about parents who want books they consider offensive removed from their children’s schools. Some of these books contain explicit material. Others promote practices and ideologies that conflict with the parents’ core values. Some parents want to ban books from classroom shelves and school libraries, and others are calling for the removal of books from curriculum. Others simply want more care taken by school staff to ensure their young children aren’t given books that are meant to be read by older teens and adults. Still others want their children to be given alternate assignments when the rest of the class will be reading something they find objectionable—a right that’s being lost in some school districts.
Teachers and librarians are pushing back against what they see as censorship and attacks against their professional judgment, and many parents are supporting them. A librarian might say, “All young people, no matter what their beliefs and life experience, should be able to find books that speak to them in the library. If we remove all challenged books, there won’t be any books left for anyone to read. Just because a book is there doesn’t mean a youth has to read it.” A teacher might say, “We need newer books that better reflect the attitudes, life experiences, and culture of modern young people. They need to hear diverse voices—especially when they’re disturbing; that’s what provokes thought. The context of a book is more important than any one scene.” Both might say, “The parents issuing challenges often haven’t even read the books they’re protesting. We’ve read many books and have been educated to identify those that are well-written and meaningful.”
I lay out a few of the concerns on both sides in an effort to show that this issue is more complex than the news stories usually report. A curriculum challenge that makes sense at a middle school in one community may not apply to the same book at a high school library in a different region of the country. I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all solution that will work for every community, but I do believe there are a few principles that should guide these decisions.
Throughout all of my study and thought on this issue, I keep coming back to something I said in the first post of this series: “In the end, you’re the only one who can decide what to put into your mind, just as you’re the only one who can decide what to put into your mouth.” While this statement is almost always true for adults, it isn’t always true for children or even teens. In a school classroom, children and teens can be forced to consume adult material they aren’t ready for or that offends their sensibilities. In the larger school environment, inexperienced fishers can be innocently exposed to material they and their parents think is indecent.
In this series of blog posts, I give strategies for finding “clean reads” that go beyond relying on curated book lists. Please see “Part 1: The Toxic Sea” for a list of resources to help you find books that others think are clean, “Part 2: Know Where to Fish” to learn what types of books will be least likely to contain profanity, graphic sex and violence, and immoral themes, and “Part 3: Sort through the Catch” to find tips for evaluating the books you find. In this post, I’ll tell you how to read widely and wholesomely without going broke.
If you live in the United States, it’ll be easy for you to get free and low-priced books of all different types. The more of those you can find, the more money you’ll have left to spend on the books you’ll be required to pay full price to read. I don’t know how this process works in other countries, but my guess is that there are similarities.
Your harvest will be larger and, at the same time, less expensive if you follow these two practices:
In this series of blog posts, I give strategies for finding “clean reads” that go beyond relying on curated book lists. Please see “Part 1: The Toxic Sea” for a list of resources to help you find books that others think are clean and “Part 2: Know Where to Fish” to learn what types of books will be least likely to contain profanity, graphic sex and violence, and immoral themes.
Now that you’ve dropped your net into the water and pulled out an abundance of book titles, it’s important to sort through the catch and evaluate each book for specific content. This step takes time, but in the end, it’s time well spent. How often have you begun reading a book and been frustrated three-quarters of the way through it when something pops up that doesn’t meet your standards? That still happens to me sometimes, but it happens less often when I make an effort to do a preliminary evaluation of every book I read. In the long run, I save time and money.
There are several components to this evaluation, and I do them in whatever order seems natural, depending on whether I’m looking into downloading an ebook or standing in a bookstore or library with a book in my hands.
In this series of blog posts, I give strategies for finding “clean reads” that go beyond relying on curated book lists. Please see “Part 1: The Toxic Sea” for the introductory post.
As a young married woman in the early 1980s, I was frustrated with the books I was reading. The ones with depth contained profanity, graphic sex and violence, and immoral themes, and the ones that didn’t were so lacking in substance that I always came away from them feeling as if I had wasted my time. I remember saying to my husband in exasperation, “There is nothing to read!” He laughed at me and replied, “How can you say that? You haven’t read anything yet!”
He was right. I had not yet learned to “fish.” Not only that, but I had refused to search for wholesome fiction in the very place that would provide one of the best harvests.
I was about twelve years old when I learned that big books written for adults usually contain profanity, graphic sex and violence, and immoral themes. In those days, there weren’t nearly as many books written for teens as there are now, and kids in my junior high school who liked to read devoured adult books and loaned them to their friends.
I understood that there was adult content I shouldn’t read, watch, or listen to, but it was all relative. While I avoided the bigger offenders, I was surrounded by profanity and sex talk every day at school. It was in the PG movies I went to see with my friends, and it was rampant on broadcast TV too, even if it wasn’t always as obvious. Even a lot of the music I listened to on the radio had innuendo.
It was all just a part of my world, and when I encountered unwholesome content in a book, I often read on and didn’t think much about it. I was, in many ways, both innocent and desensitized. The detoxification process took years, and I still struggle at times to keep my media choices at the level of cleanliness I want them to be.
You may be asking, “Why bother? Does it really matter?”
The Leatherstocking Tales, by James Fenimore Cooper (American classics)
The Last of the Mohicans
After reading two excellent Christian historical novels set in seventeenth and eighteenth century America, I realized that I wasn’t ready to leave that world yet and decided to try James Fenimore Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales. The Deerslayer sucked me into the series and held me captive until the final pages of The Prairie, and that astonished me; I really didn’t expect to love these books as much as I did.
“Ruth Hilton is an orphaned young seamstress who catches the eye of a gentleman, Henry Bellingham, who is captivated by her simplicity and beauty. When she loses her job and home, he offers her comfort and shelter, only to cruelly desert her soon after. Nearly dead with grief and shame, Ruth is offered the chance of a new life among people who give her love and respect, even though they are at first unaware of her secret—an illegitimate child.”
Ruth is a deeply religious novel that explores the intellectual, social, and spiritual life of a “fallen” young woman. The depiction of the attitudes and mores of mid-nineteen century England fascinated me and often made me angry. By modern standards, and in many places, the innocent and sexually ignorant sixteen-year-old Ruth would be a victim of statutory rape. I was appalled at the way so many wanted to vindicate the seducer and assume he was “beguiled” by this “very artful and bold young creature.”
After being so carefully groomed, used, and then deserted by her seducer, Ruth is found ill and in despair by a middle-aged minister who takes her to his home to live with him, his sister, and their housekeeper. Thurstan and Faith Benson make enormous social and financial sacrifices to take Ruth into their home, and Faith is, naturally, disturbed by Ruth’s lack of gratitude. Her brother consoles her with these words:
“When tragedy strikes sixteen-year-old Wren’s family, she can’t see the point in starting over again, especially when her future seems so uncertain and her heart so heavy.
“After she is sent to stay with her favorite aunt, who lives in a doll museum, Wren quickly discovers two creepily lifelike dolls hidden inside the walls of the old house. Dolls that were created to look like two very real people—a dangerously handsome young man and his mysteriously beautiful fiancée—a young woman he supposedly murdered a few weeks before their wedding day.
“As Wren attempts to solve what really happened all those years ago—she begins to realize that not only are the dolls haunted—but one of them is dead set on making sure the truth will never be revealed. No matter the cost…”
Lifelike sucked me right in. It’s suspenseful, frightening, funny, and sweet, and Wren is so lifelike . . . . I absolutely love this little novel! Had I read it as a teen, it would have been one of my very favorite books, and I probably would have read it again and again.
I’ll be publishing Day of Liberation, the third book in the Dominion Over the Earth series, in 2022. I’m very excited to make this book available to you. It’s my favorite of all the novels I’ve written. I love the story, and I adore the characters. In this novel, I explore themes that astonish and thrill me. Day of Liberation was always meant to be a love story, but it developed into something more—an extraordinary journey of a couple that answers questions I never meant to ask:
“The Men of the Mark do not lie, and therefore they are not easily deceived” (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Two Towers).
“God has just such gladness every time he sees from heaven that a sinner is praying to Him with all his heart, as a mother has when she sees the first smile on her baby’s face” (Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot).
“God’s love and mercy can overcome all things—our ignorance, and weakness, and all the burden of our past wickedness—all things but our wilful sin, sin that we cling to, and will not give up” (George Eliot, Adam Bede).
“Unlimited power is in itself a bad and dangerous thing; human beings are not competent to exercise it with discretion, and God alone can be omnipotent, because His wisdom and His justice are always equal to His power” (Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America).
“I decided that God, a kind and loving God, could never be proved. In fact there are . . . a lot of arguments against him. But there isn’t any point to life without him. Without him we’re just a skin disease on the face of the earth, and I feel too strongly about the human spirit to be able to settle for that. So what I did for a long time was to live life as though I believed in God. And eventually I found out that the as though had turned into a reality” (Madeleine L’Engle, The Moon by Night).
About the Author
Creator of spaced-out Christian fiction and clean-reading resources. See my BIO.