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Book Reviews Bret Lott. Letters & Life: On Being a Writer, On Being a Christian. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013. Pp. 192. $22.99. ISBN 978-1-4335-3783-7. To many readers of fiction, Bret Lott is primarily known as an award-winning novelist who has been on Oprah’s television show. And Lott is mainly a fiction writer, spending most of his time showing rather than telling. But in Letters & Life, Lott’s second non-fiction book on writing, he does some of both, all the while providing direction for Christians who want to connect their faith to their writing. The book is structured just as it sounds: five essays (or letters) on writing and Christianity comprise the first half, and a lengthy memoir (i.e., life), the second. Lott begins by affirming the Apostles’ Creed, which introduces his first chapter, titled ‘‘Why Have We Given Up the Ghost? Notes on Reclaiming Literary Fiction.’’ Unfortunately, many writers have stopped seeing the supernatural in the world, and their fiction has suffered because of it. After relating three brief stories from his experience that demonstrate God’s supernatural provision, Lott describes how naturalism has insidiously infected numerous societal realms, from operating rooms to literary circles. Lott says, ‘‘We have become so primed to believe in the self that there is no room for anything else, that it seems preposterous to have characters whose lives are altered by a supernatural God’’ (22). Lott’s description here recalls a passage in Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins where he writes about ‘‘the dread chasm that has rent the soul of Western man ever since the famous philosopher Descartes ripped body loose from mind and turned the very soul into a ghost that haunts its own house.’’ Lott argues that the ‘‘schism between imagination and philosophy, between story and supernatural meaning’’ is a false dichotomy introduced by the Enlightenment (27), and secularism is just as empty as false religions. In reality, when it comes to reclaiming literary fiction, ‘‘the work. . .has already been accomplished’’ because of the Incarnation (27). As Chesterton puts it in The Everlasting Man, ‘‘mythology and philosophy. . .mingle [in] the sea of Christendom.’’ Chapter 2 provides some thoughts on the role of Christian artists in the public square, a role that does not include overt political action or proselytizing. The beginning point is to recognize that ‘‘the created world has a moral order to which we must submit, and through that submission and only through that submission will harmony and beauty and truth even begin to be approached by us who profess to practice art’’ (34). Lott takes time to expound on the biblical story of Bezalel, the Israelite filled with the Spirit of God to craft items for the tabernacle. Christianity & Literature 2015, Vol. 64(3) 331–368 ! The Author(s) 2015 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/ journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/0148333114566769 cal.sagepub.com Then, approaching Tolkien’s creation imagery in The Silmarillion, Lott describes primary creation by the Creator as melody, secondary creation by creatures as harmony, and deviant works as dissonance. This emphasis on melody and harmony does not mean that Lott sees no value in art that stems from pain. Lott quotes John Gardner and Francis Schaeffer as he makes his case that brokenness frequently acts as a catalyst for artistry; however, as poignant as painful events are, they do not on their own comprise the cosmic metanarrative—they are minor themes, not to be confused with the major themes of goodness and purpose. ‘‘[A]rt in harmony with our creator God is art that must encompass the whole of man’s experience, its depravity and triumph both’’ (42). The chapter ‘‘On Precision’’ urges would-be writers to push themselves to be as clear-sighted and fresh as possible. As ‘‘the most important element to crafting a piece of prose’’ (48), precision helps writers develop the courage to trust their own phrasing instead of a ‘‘steaming pile of clichés’’ (50). Quoting a photographer, Lott recommends tactful (if possible) staring and eavesdropping, because ‘‘if you want to write. . .you [had] better pay attention to what is happening around YOU as a means by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2056-5666
Print ISSN
0148-3331
Pages
pp. 331-334
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-04
Open Access
No
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