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The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald
In the early pages of The Great Gatsby, tragic hero Jay Gatsby embodies the zeitgeist of the Roaring ’20s. He rises to wealth and prominence in New York City through dubious business dealings. Unlike many in the Jazz Age, though, he hopes for something greater than material success, and he binds that hope up in his illicit love interest, Daisy Buchanan. Narrator Nick Carraway brings a slightly more wholesome, Midwestern perspective to the book’s East Coast debauchery. But with no transcendent hope in sight, Fitzgerald’s tale ends as a secular Ecclesiastes, making plain the vanity of life without God.
The Screwtape Letters
Christian professor and author C.S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) published this book of 31 letters during World War II. Addressed by a senior demon named Screwtape to his understudy, these letters cleverly turn right and wrong inside out, referencing God as “the enemy” and hell as “Our Father’s house.” Screwtape gives his understudy detailed, practical advice on how to turn a Christian away from God. In each brief chapter, Lewis reframes topics like prayer and family relationships in light of spiritual warfare, chronicling how pride and selfishness make us vulnerable to attack. A quick, conversational read worth revisiting.
In April of 1719, author, spy, and pamphleteer Daniel Defoe reinvented the travel journal and (debatably) invented the English novel with his book Robinson Crusoe. Protagonist Crusoe ends up shipwrecked on a Caribbean island, facing storms, cannibals, and mutineers. Providentially, he finds a Bible in the wreckage and reads Psalm 50, “Call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver, and thou wilt glorify me.” Crusoe’s newfound faith takes root in hard soil. Sadly, Crusoe’s salvation doesn’t affect his low view of dark-skinned people or his participation in the slave trade. Note: Some current editions leave out Defoe’s Christian reflections.
Evidence That Demands a Verdict
Why do you believe the Bible is true? Since its publication in 1972, apologist Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict has helped Christians answer that question. Through careful study of archaeological and historical evidence, McDowell shows why we can trust the Bible: “Not only do we have what was written down [by original Biblical authors], what was written down was true.” With more than 800 pages of material in the 2017 revision, the book works best as a reference book, not read cover to cover. The 2017 version, co-authored by McDowell’s son Sean, also includes helpful insights on pre-evangelism for a generation skeptical about truth.
Families who want to ignite a child’s imagination for Christ might consider Sally Lloyd-Jones’ Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing (Zonderkidz, 2012). In these short devotionals, Lloyd-Jones continually points readers to Bible verses about God’s faithfulness. She also introduces young readers to the writings of saints like Martin Luther, Amy Carmichael, and John Stott. Illustrator Jago (see The Jesus Storybook Bible) complements the text with playful, outside-the-box images. A powerful combo.
Robert Lacey’s Great Tales From English History (Little, Brown and Company, 2004) follows the conservative tradition of H.E. Marshall’s Our Island Story. The first in a trilogy that retells English history into the 1950s, Lacey draws on wide-ranging scholarship, old and new, to paint larger-than-life figures like Julius Caesar, the Venerable Bede, and King Arthur. Written for adults, Lacey’s concrete, hair-raising storytelling is perfect for families with older children. —E.W.