#TellHisStory Featured Writer: Karen Swallow Prior

April 16, 2013 | 14 comments


During 2013, dozens of talented writers are joining me to cheer you on in your storytelling. These guest-writers will share a few helpful words with you right here every Tuesday night, to encourage you as you #TellHisStory. (Come back after midnight Wednesday to link up your God Story by clicking here. You are free to share ANY story that God lays on your heart.)

And now, I’m delighted to introduce you to author Karen Swallow Prior.


I believe in the power of story. I believe in the power of story because well-told stories have shaped my life immeasurably.  Naturally, I have wanted to tell the story of those stories. So I wrote Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me. The heart of the book is the story that changed my life more than any other:  the nineteenth century French novel Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

You’ll have to read my book to get the whole story of Madame Bovary’s influence in my life, but here suffice it to say that reading the novel helped me to see the person I was in danger of becoming—and to become the person I needed to be instead.

Telling the story of that story’s role in my life allowed someone else’s story to change, too.

During a book club discussion of Booked at The High Calling, one reader shared that the chapter on Madame Bovary helped her more than any marriage handbook she’d ever read (and she’s read a lot). She surmised that it’s because when she reads self-help books that tell her what she’s doing wrong, she gets defensive. But when she observes the same behavior in a fictional character she can see wrote “with a detachment,” free from the guilt and self-justification that cloud that seeing.  “Watching the story unfold, from the outside,” she wrote, “I see clearly; I know how Emma’s story ends…I can read about Emma and say, ‘That’s me’.” That’s the power stories have to change us.

Being reminded of that reminds me that sharing stories isn’t just something I want to do; I have to do it.

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University. She is a contributing writer for Christianity Today, The Atlantic, and Think Christian and the author of Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me (T. S. Poetry Press 2012).

Your turn: Quick. Name the first story that comes to mind that had enough power to change you.


by | April 16, 2013 | 14 comments


  1. dukeslee

    Karen … A joy to have you in this space tonight. Your book, Booked, is highlighted all over the place. So many nuggets of wisdom and wit. Like you experienced, “books made my world feel bigger and made me feel freer.

    To answer my own question, about the books that had the power to change me, I’d have to say The Little House series and The Diary of Anne Frank. As a child, it opened up for me some universal truths that crossed over barriers of time.

    • KSP

      Thank you so much for hosting me here, Jennifer. It is a joy to be part of any discussion about the books that shape and change us.

  2. Jody Lee Collins

    Thank you Jennifer, for spotlighting ‘Dr. Prior’ here……..:-) I read Booked when it came out and was touched by every chapter.

    First book I read that changed me? Can’t be quick about that, it’s too hard to decide…..I’ll be back 🙂

    • KSP

      Thanks for the kind words, Jody. Can’t wait to read your answer …

  3. Denise J. Hughes

    Karen, I love this! I taught “Madame Bovary” in three of my English classes last year. Yes, we can learn so much from the characters in great fiction. Emma Bovary teaches us a lot about human nature.

    “The Remains of the Day” by Kazuo Ishiguro is one of my favorites. It’s a beautifully told story of a man who devotes himself to a life of sacrifice and service, only to reach the end of his life and realize he served the wrong master. While this book is not explicitly “Christian,” the themes woven throughout are universal truths. I have all of my college freshmen read it as part of their first-year-composition course.

    Thanks for this great post. I look forward to getting your book!

    • KSP

      Oh, I read “The Remains of the Day” just last summer and fell in love with it (and Ishiguro). Excellent choice. I love, love, love that book.

      I hope you enjoy BOOKED! Let me know!


  4. Angie Webb

    Great post. I love any books by Mary DeMuth but her book Thin Places helped me heal and put words to what I had felt.

    • KSP

      I hear so many excellent words about Mary DeMuth and have not read her. Must do so!

  5. Michelle DeRusha

    It’s not classic literature, but Martha Beck’s “Expecting Adam,” changed me. I read it as I was on the cusp of moving from non-believer to believer, and Beck’s story helped me believe that God is real and with us.

    Thanks for your story, Karen. Your book sounds like a must-read to me – I am looking forward to checking it out!

    • KSP

      I am intrigued! I will check that book out. Thanks for reading, Michelle!

  6. monicasharman

    Yessss! Karen Swallow Prior is in the house!

    Booked has become one of my favorites, and the Madame Bovary chapter is indeed powerful. It sure gave me a reality check and saved me from multiple days of nasty attitudes.

    The most recent novel that had the power to change me was Gary Schmidt’s The Wednesday Wars. I read page 91 and was not the same person I was on page 90. Whoa.

  7. KSP

    I have not heard of the Wednesday Wars. I will put it on my summer reading list. Thanks for joining me here, Monica!

  8. Julie Rodgers

    This is fantastic, Karen! I need to read your book. There are too many for me to name, but the first that comes to mind is East of Eden. Cal gave me the courage to be honest, to fail while risking, and to stare into the eyes of life’s difficult choices rather than trudging the path others insisted I follow.

  9. Jimmy Fabrizio

    Breaking the gender divide here… The first story that comes to mind that has changed me is The Giving Tree. It opened my eyes to how unconditionally God loves me, and it continues to remind me.


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