May and June will be super busy for me, so I’m going to try to post short but regular reading updates (i.e. less than my usual 1000 words, and not obsessed over for 2 days).
I had my reading for last weekend/this week all planned out, but it turned out I needed something emotionally lighter to intersperse with JoJo Moyes’ Me Before You. What I chose was nothing on my list or even on my TBR, but Siri Mitchell’s The Cubicle Next Door. I’m not sure exactly what in this post by jmcbooks inspired me to check it out, because usually the words “inspirational chick lit,” even followed by “in a loose sort of way,” would send me running. I suspect it was her statement that the heroine’s voice makes the book.
I enjoyed The Cubicle Next Door. Heroine Jackie is a bit exaggerated, perhaps–abandoned the day of her birth, she’s never really attached herself to anyone but the grandmother who raised her. The book is her journey. Joe, the charming hero, doesn’t change; he’s the patient catalyst for her change. I appreciated that she didn’t change fundamentally, but became a version of herself who would take the risk of loving someone and experiencing new things. She’s a tomboyish geek who doesn’t blossom into a “real girl.” Joe finds her desirable as she is. And she works out her feelings partly by blogging.
The inspirational part is pretty light, but to my surprise (this is my first inspirational romance) I found it too light. It’s not that I wanted to be preached at, but Jackie wasn’t entirely believable as a Christian and Joe was less so. I did like and understand her environmentalism as faith-based: God made the world, and loved it enough to send his son to die for it, and so we should love and care for it too. Beyond that, I had problems.
Detour: Where I’m Coming From on Faith
Because this explains why I can’t read inspies. I was raised as an Anglican (well, Episcopalian), and my dad went to seminary when I was in my early teens. Tradition is important to Anglicans. I can imagine leaving the church, and I’ve shopped around for Anglican churches, but I can’t imagine joining another Protestant church, particularly one that didn’t have a liturgical or eucharistic tradition. Worshipping with others, in a form–more or less–handed down for centuries, is meaningful to me. I get that this is not the case for others.
So anyway, Jackie considers herself a Christian, but she doesn’t seem to pray much and she hasn’t been to church for ten years. I don’t really believe you can be a Christian in isolation. From the very beginning, Jesus gathered a community around him. Jackie and Joe shop around for churches, and they mainly focus on the preaching. They end up at a Catholic church, because it’s friendly; it’s the only one that seems to have room for new people. Which, fine. But they don’t really participate in the service and they don’t receive communion. I don’t understand–like, mind-bogglingly don’t–why anyone would be drawn to the Catholic church if its liturgy and theology meant nothing to them. So . . . half-hearted Christian that I am, I seem to be too religious for inspirational romance. Or just the wrong kind of religious. Aside from Jackie’s environmentalism (and her virginity, which really has another explanation), her faith is largely passive. This is true of me too, but I don’t admire this about myself. I would have found the book more interesting if growing in faith, not just finding a church, had been part of Jackie’s journey. I didn’t really think it was.
I was surprised by how strong my feelings about this were. I enjoyed the romance, I liked Jackie as a character and the slow, thoughtful development of her journey. But the religious part failed for me in a totally unexpected way. I don’t want fiction to preach to me, but I’d love to see a more in-depth portrayal of a practicing Christian. What else is inspirational romance for? Just for no sex?
Here’s my recent library haul, to go with my Patricia Gaffney reading:
Carlene Bauer, Frances and Bernard (because of this–scroll to end; I’ve been waiting for my hold to come in)
Liza Palmer, Nowhere But Home (because Brie recommended a different Palmer book on Twitter, but I spotted this one at the library. And then it showed up in Clear Eyes, Full Shelves’ April recommended reads)
Rebecca Makkai, The Borrower (because Willaful recommended it to me and anyone who loves librarians and children’s lit)
What about you?