God Between the Covers: A Unique Postmodern Literary Guide to Christian Growth
The first anecdote of GOD BETWEEN THE COVERS shows evidence of Marcia Ford's "addiction to books." It's 1972, she's a college senior, in arrears on her rent. Out job hunting, she gets distracted and buys two memorable books --- by authors highlighted later here: Svetlana Alliluyeva, daughter of Joseph Stalin, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.
Marcia then introduces us to her spiritual journey, also jumping off from that senior year of college, when she comes or returns to faith through Christian friends. She starts reading the Bible and soon "books about books about the Bible." She settles into a conservative, charismatic church life. "I had found truth," she says. "I had found authenticity." But right up front Marcia admits she's moved beyond that certainty to a faith that is postmodern, a word she brings up often but is reluctant to define, though such a reluctance to define terms is an aspect of postmodernism.
This personal introduction sets up the remainder of the book, eight chapters, each covering a category of books --- and more specifically individual titles or authors --- that "helped me in my personal and spiritual formation" in a particular season of life. "Places where I discovered the evidence of God."
As an afterword Marcia's editor describes the book as "a memoir of [Marcia's] spiritual journey clothed in a series of reviews of classic and important books for spiritual growth." Yes, and in so doing, Marcia, who has been an editor of Christian Retailing magazine and is a commentator about the Christian book industry, gives us a personal take (about two pages each) on nearly a hundred books or authors. If you're looking for a goodly selection of thought-provoking books for personal enrichment or group discussion, here is a great resource.
Marcia starts in the Woodstock-era wasteland and search that brought her to an encounter with Christ, largely fiction and poetry, much of it then --- but I expect not now --- assigned in college English courses: CRIME AND PUNISHMENT by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, THE SCARLET LETTER by Nathaniel Hawthorne, A DEATH IN THE FAMILY by James Agee and WISE BLOOD by Flannery O'Connor; and the poetry of Francis Thompson, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Robert Frost. Also, the song lyrics of Bob Dylan and Bruce Cockburn. Some of these early "reviews" are about an author's content; in memoir fashion, some largely reveal Marcia's response.
In later chapters, focused on nonfiction, Marcia's commentary often goes biographical. A chapter delving into social justice issues (still in the 1970s) highlights Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Martin Luther King and Eldridge Cleaver, as well as Anne Frank.
Marcia continues to walk us chronologically through the decades of her life, as defined by major reading interests. One chapter, "Christian Writers and Genuine Faith," includes the reasoned works of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, Josh McDowell, Chesterton, Bonhoeffer and Lewis. A chapter hooked to children's literature corresponds to her years as a home-schooling mother. A chapter highlighting the best of the charismatic and evangelical tradition includes Jamie Buckingham, Eugene Peterson and Judson Cornwall's PRAYING THE SCRIPTURES.
Marcia moves on, to a liturgical interest, sparked by Kathleen Norris, who "introduced me to a host of female writers on spirituality," though not many of these women are given full entries. And then to the "emerging church movement," exemplified in Brian McLaren's A NEW KIND OF CHRISTIAN, which resonated with Marcia, who "kept getting this urge to punch the air with a theological victory fist," because McLaren gave "shape and structure and words to those amorphous nigglings at the back of my mind."
In a final chapter, Marcia refreshingly rediscovers the value of fiction and poetry (notably Mary Oliver and Hafiz) "not realizing until much later how postmodern I had become. Story-telling, as it turns out, is at the core of postmodern thinking." There's that indefinable word again, which keeps insinuating itself into the story.
Earlier in the book, Marcia, who claims to be both "cerebral and emotive," admits that only one book has brought her, as an adult, to tears: Sheldon Vanauken's autobiographical love story A SEVERE MERCY. For Marcia and for you, I wish decades more of good reading that illumines a personal search for God, but I would hope the search includes a few more heartbreaking stories.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on November 13, 2011