Book of the Month/April 2020

My book choice this month is a title with (I assume) limited interest. But since that limited interest group is made up of writers and would-be writers, and because everybody in that group is a sucker for books about books, and books about how to write them, I thought it would be worthwhile to tell everyone how much I profited from reading this one.

There are parts of the book that are digressions into the innards of David Copperfield, say, but the over-arching theme really floated my boat.

Bottum’s thesis is basically that the novel is a quintessentially Protestant art form, and that the modern decline of the novel is tied tightly to the decline of Protestantism. Bottum is (I believe) a Roman Catholic, but he analyzes the Protestant contribution to this particular art in a judicious, fair-minded, and intelligent way.

Keep in mind that when he talks about the decline of Protestantism, he is largely talking about the declining influence of the mainstream denominations. For conservative Protestants, this seems like an odd fit — how can they be Protestants still when they aren’t Christians anymore? But Bottum knows what he is about, and I will leave it him to explain everything.

The short form is that the Protestant emphasis on the salvation of the individual soul produced a need for an art form that echoed the thickness of that experience, and so the psychological novel came into being. But as the evangelical realities seeped away, an attempt was made to have the novel itself provide the thickness of that experience. That attempt has utterly failed, as idolatries tend to do.

If you write novels, or read them, or want to write them, I believe you will greatly enjoy this book.

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Ted Ryan

“But since that limited interest group is made up of writers and would-be writers, and because everybody in that group is a sucker for books about books, and books about how to write them…”

I am not a writer or would-be writer (perhaps I am suppressing an inner desire) but I otherwise really enjoy books about books, about writing and about reading. So the “limited interest group” is at least +1.