A few month ago a customer asked me some questions about the fiction we sell.
Is there any criteria for the fiction you stock?
Are there certain authors that you trust?
Are some publishers better than others?
Are there any books you refuse to carry?
A few months ago, my boss, Lando Klassen, wrote an article entitled, "Christian Fiction, No Such Thing Anymore?" I quote:
I've been thinking about our fiction section at House of James. Like most Christian type stores we carry titles primarily from Nelson, Tyndale, Baker/Bethany, Zondervan and other “Christian” publishers and some from major general publishers.
For years many of our books had some kind of redeeming element or some kind of Christian theme woven throughout - yes sometimes it was forced and sometimes it seemed a bit cheesy I’ll admit. Now though, many of our books are better written but there seems to be virtually no redeeming value in them. For example, Liparulo’s Comes a Horseman, Ted Dekker’s Boneman’s Daughter and Steven James' Pawn. The thrill and chill factor is there.
I love a fast paced novel. I learned a lot about a serial killer’s style and a murderer who broke all the bones of his victims. Some of these books are incredibly awful, gory and graphic. In my store I have rarely censored anything in this department ( although once I put up a sign warning folks about the graphic language in Miriam Toews’ novel. It was over the top as compared to anything else we had ever carried - but a very good and important book nonetheless.)
However, lately I’ve been thinking we shouldn’t call it Christian fiction - just fiction, and forget entirely about who publishes it and its redeeming value – the only guiding principle is that it should be high quality writing and if there is profanity and graphic sex it should be somewhat reasonable.
Speaking with one of my staff the other day , she said John Grisham’s latest, The Associate, had one of the clearest presentations of the Gospel she’d seen in current popular fiction. Nothing like that is in any of the thrillers I've read from our store in the last 2 years or so.
Fiction readers! What do you think? What do you expect and want to see at the House of James in this area? Any good suggestions of quality fiction we should carry that is not currently sold in our store? Do you wonder why we do carry some books?
My boss and I diverge in our opinions about "Christian-type" fiction. I personally don't think we should carry fiction that details how a killer's mind works. Why should we be submerged in the darkness and cesspool of his soul? I love a good mystery or action thriller (James Scott Bell's books are excellent), but not for the gore, guts or grit - more for the plot, characterization and resolution. I dislike Christian "soap operas" but love the meandering Mitford series. I'm troubled by books that focus on brutality and evil but sappy "chick lit" infuriates me.
I'd love to hear your opinions, especially if they are strong!
Thursday, August 19, 2010
I apologize for the over-long hiatus to this blog. I do have two excuses - I was on holidays and then I filled in for our receiver who took some time off. I had forgotten what a full-time job that was! Customers often tell us how peaceful and beautiful our store is, but that is only because they don't usually step foot in the receiving room where there is non-stop hustle, bustle and dust (le).
It does my heart good to be back on the floor, talking and writing about good books. I read several while I was down on the damp Oregon coast huddled next to our roaring camp fire or wrapped in a blanket in our van. This was not the Oregon I have known and loved. This was a foggy, gray, drizzly soup. Never mind. Onward to the books!
Good news from the book world! Lisa Samson has just written a new book, Resurrection in May. Once again she tackles unpopular subjects: genocide, post-traumatic stress disorder, agoraphobia, (after that holiday I'm seriously considering succumbing), and acute depression.
No pat answers, no fairytale ending, a few loose ends, marvelous characterization - Lisa Samson is a consummate storyteller with a gentle, grace-filled view of humankind. As far as I'm concerned, she can't write fast enough.
The story centers around May, a party girl who is celebrating her graduation from college in 1993 with the mother of all hangovers. Claudius, an elderly farmer, finds her throwing up on a local bridge the morning after. In May's words, she "dates too much, drinks too much, smokes too much, just graduated with a 4.0, loves animals and little kids". One of my favourite parts is Claudius' description of her dress. "The girl was packaged in a watermelon-colored dress that had clearly been cut from the vine before it had been allowed to grow all of its skirt."
Both May and her unlikely rescuer have unexpected depths which give the reader great pleasure to explore. May, for all of her outward sophistication, does have a heart of compassion. In an attempt to make a difference in her world, she volunteers for several months in Rwanda working with a Tutsi priest in his impoverished village. She lives (barely) through the horrors that follow but the inward and outward scars will remain forever.
Claudius provides a home for May on his farm upon her return in hopes of healing. He (one of the central characters for goodness' sake!) dies shortly after she comes to stay. This killing off of one of the main protaganists halfway through the book is a literary device seldom used in fiction and shocked me profoundly. Don't remove one of the people that I want to emulate!
Speaking of role models, most of Samson's novels do feature followers of Jesus who live out their faith in such a way that we want to follow them. She explores the reality of Christians living together in community, of putting their faith into action, of believers reaching out to the lost. I want to be that kind of a Christian and the author weaves in very practical descriptions of what that looks like.
Another attractive feature (at least to me!) of this book is the emphasis on good, homegrown food! At several points throughout the book we can almost taste the steaming chicken soup, or the buttery biscuits or the fragrant apple dumplings.
Gardening and flowers also play a significant part in the ongoing story of May. But just as in life, neither plants or hearts blossom and become healthy overnight. May's healing takes years. The reader gets to know her so well that we cheer when she succeeds and groan when she falls.
Read and be glad that Christendom has been blessed with an author like Lisa Samson. Long may she live and write.