Jeff Baldwin makes it plain: as Christians, our duty is as much to actively pursue good things as it is to reject bad ones. But when it comes to literature, how do we know which is which? Is beauty simply subjective, in the eye of the beholder? Must a book be explicitly Christian to be good? If there are objective standards, what are they?
The Twelve Trademarks of Great Literature was written to answer these questions, and to provide guidelines for assessing literature on your own. For Jeff Baldwin (a Worldview Academy instructor), content and style are inseparable—a book with fine style and awful content is not good, nor is one with satisfactory content lodged in a blundering style. This unity of purpose and expression combines to make the books we call classics.
In chapter one, the author makes an interesting observation. Discussing Hemingway, and wondering aloud how Christian readers can enjoy a book like The Old Man and the Sea which clearly presents an unchristian worldview, he comes to the conclusion that we care about the old fisherman Santiago, not because he's a dogged fisherman, but because he displays virtue and patience in the face of deep adversity.
This is one of the best defenses we've encountered for reading secular fiction. There are plenty of novels out there featuring immoral main characters who do everything for selfish reasons and get away with it, but we're not interested in those. We're interested in the books that accurately depict man's nature, yet also show man at his best, seeking good character and maintaining worthy principles.
Through a series of essays, Baldwin identifies the twelve trademarks of great literature and elaborates on them, showing readers how to look for and find them in any books they encounter. Then he presents some poems and short stories of his own: ironically, these aren't very good, and belie the high standards he's set for judging what we read.
If you're interested in the questions of art and Christianity, or just want to know how to tell whether a book is good or bad, The Twelve Trademarks of Great Literature is a good place to start. We'd recommend reading the essays, and ignoring the stories and poems. Baldwin's style can be a bit odd at times in the essays, but he has good insights and a clear heart for both literature and Jesus Christ.