Lent comes early this year, which means the 40 days leading up to Easter (minus Sundays) may feel more like extended winter than the springtime we typically associate with the season. Rather than mourn the slow demise of cold and snow, however, we could view an early Lent as the perfect sort of season for curling up with a good book. Or several.

And by “good book” I don’t mean the nonfiction devotional writing we feel compelled to read as appropriately penitential. I mean poetry and fiction that both nurture and confront the soul. While compiling the newly released anthology Between Midnight and Dawn: A Literary Guide to Prayer for Lent, Holy Week, and Eastertide (Paraclete Press), I found myself in the company of classic and contemporary poets and novelists who somehow manage this uniquely Lenten task: to hold up a mirror, lovingly, that tells the reader the truth; but do so via the imagination, when the reader’s defenses are down.

In that spirit, here’s a list of some of my top literary choices for Lent. I’ve listed them roughly in the order that you might want to read them as Lent progresses.

Twice-Told Tales

Nathaniel Hawthorne

Gregory Wolfe of Image journal calls Hawthorne America’s “first great Christian writer.” And indeed, in this early collection of short stories we encounter an 18th-century writer who seeks, in Wolfe’s words, to “locate [the power of evil] in the human heart, in opposition to an age that wanted either to deny evil or locate it within human institutions.” That sounds appropriate for our own age as well, especially in an election year; and it’s also appropriately Lenten. Take, for instance, the Reverend Hooper ...

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