Christians are in a real sense people of the Book. What we know of God and his relationship with his people is mediated to the church through the Bible. And the Bible is not than just a book but an entire library which includes every genre of literature. So Christians ought to be readers, but this does not mean they ought to read anything and everything. Some books will lead Christians into vicarious sin (i.e. reading vivid sexual depictions will cause some readers to cross the line into sin) while others will cause them to gouge out their eyes because of the poor writing.
Gene Veith wrote Reading Between the Lines to help people be better readers. Good literature is not merely a matter of taste; there are objective criteria for judging a book’s merits (i.e. clarity, elements of style, etc.). Veith argues that reading a good book that you vehemently disagree with may be more beneficial than reading a bad book with which you agree.
Veith’s book is organized into four sections. The preface (chapters one and two) describe his purpose in writing, and the value of reading books critically. The next section explores the forms of literature (non-fiction, fiction and poetry) and describes the elements of each. This section gives a fairly basic introduction to each form and describes the characteristics of good literature in each category. Next Veith describes modes of literature (tragedy and comedy, realism and fantasy). In the final section he describes the traditions of literature (the Middle Ages and the Reformation, the Enlightenment and Romanticism and Modernism and Post-modernism). This brief historical overview of literature provides critical insight into the objectives of literature in each era (including our own). The final chapter talks about the role of writers and publishers in producing good literature and the role of readers in purposefully reading good literature. Veith urges us to stop wasting our reading on literary distractions but to read the good books (which in turn encourages publishers and writers to produce good books by creating a market for them).
Reading Between the Lines was first published in 1990. This is not a revision or second edition, it is a new printing. At times the text feels dated. Neil Postman is spoken of as a living author (he past away ten years ago). Annie Dillard is introduced as a Christian author (she has since moved somewhat in her spiritual life). However much of the information in this book remains relevant. Vieth provides insights into the nature of literature–its forms, modes and traditions. He offers a robust defense for reading good literature, and for Christians to create it. I think Christian highschool students or college students will benefit from what he says. This is a primer in Christian literary criticism from an able reader of texts.
All this is not to say that more mature readers will not draw valuable insights from the text. Veith has good stuff to say; yet I wondered who his intended audience is. This is an accessible but fairly dense book about literature. I can’t image people who read bad books or no books being interested in reading a two hundred odd page Christian guide to literature. This is preaching to the choir at its finest
. I give this book ★★★½. Thank you to Crossway for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.