This week I've been pondering the question, "What does it take for a book to truly move me?" I've noticed recently that my motivations for reading might not be typical. Evidently many readers choose books that are comforting and familiar, or go to the other extreme for books that thrill and excite. The typical reader engages a book wanting to "worry" about the main character, knowing that they can expect their "happily ever after" in the end.
I can't say that any of these motivations appeal to me. I read for entirely different reasons. Of course I hope to be entertained, but I also want far more. I long to be moved and changed and shattered in a good way. So again I ask, "What does it take for a book to truly move me?"
1) Take me to a new time or place and introduce me to unexpected characters.
2) Allow me a peek into a person's soul.
3) Let me take a journey with that person.
4) Give me beauty and art that will uplift my soul.
5) Teach me something I didn't already know.
6) Cause me to walk away from that journey with a deeper understanding of God and mankind.
This week I read just such a book, Love's Pursuit, by Siri Mitchell. I first discovered Siri a few years back when I read her comic romance, Kissing Adrien. The book took place in Paris and offered a wonderfully fresh perspective on God and Christianity in a light-hearted way that left me delighted. However, Love's Pursuit, goes to whole new depths.
First the book travels to the little known world of the New England Puritans. I loved this world already from reading Hawthorne. I hoped that Siri would follow up on some of his themes, and she did not disappoint. Once immersed in Siri's fictional world, I met Susannah Phillips, a well-respected and religious young woman, who knows that deep down her soul is dark. She can never live up to the impossibly high standards of her community, no matter how hard she tries. Next comes the intriguing supporting character of Small-hope Smyth, a longtime abuse victim who has been rescued by marriage to a kind man, but still suffers the aftermath of the unimaginable horrors of her childhood. Finally comes handsome Captain Daniel Holcombe, a breath of fresh air from the outside world despite his own troubled past.
Each of these characters give the readers refreshingly honest glimpses into their souls. Siri also wrote with the degree of artistry and excellence that I so crave.
The journey undertaken along with these characters is insightful, romantic, and troubling all at once. As I suspected, the Puritans did not create the utopia they anticipated, but rather a nightmare of rules, conventions, and expectations. A world in which work and stoicism are all that matters, and abuses are overlooked. A world where beauty is most often supressed, and where joy is margainalized.
I learned much about this world, from a deep spiritual perspective to interesting cultural details such as the passing of leaven from generation to generation, weekly nitpickings, and the rearing of unnamed children.
More than any of these factors, though, I was stunned by the new insight I received into the nature and wonder of God. I would have sworn before reading this book that I knew all I could about God's grace, and yet witnessing it through the eyes of Susannah and Small-Hope gave me an even richer understanding, leaving me breathless and in tears.
And did this book have the well-loved happily ever after. I will give you fair warning. No, it didn't. Yet the ending was perfect, and I wouldn't have changed a word.
I count Siri Mitchell as a friend, and I am so thankful that God has brought her into my life.