Friday, August 27, 2010

Questions

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!

--Becky

7 comments:

  1. I am a voracious reader and a writer (see my website). What makes a book Christian is that the writer is a believer. But if the book has nothing to say of universal significance, it's not a worthy book.

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  2. David -
    What does a "universal significance" actually mean? And who says all Christian fiction must have "universal significance?" For the matter does any book really have "universal significance?" Do not most books speak to a specific culture or sub-culture?

    Becky -
    I think it would be unwise for HOJ to stop carrying that 'christian-type fiction' you suggest. I have not read many of them, but am familiar with Dekker's Boneman and James' Patrick Bowers series. James' spends a great deal of time exploring the evil of a killer and sociopath's mind. Although this exposes the reader to a certain amount of darkness, it is done in a context where light is contrasted with this darkness. I think it is important to have this contrast, and we must avoid focusing only on the darkness. I think James offers a great deal of this so-called redeeming value (contra Lando). But like life, it is slow and a process.
    Compare the ideas, actions, beliefs, attitudes, and relational dynamics of Raven(Tessa) and Patrick from the Pawn to the Bishop. There is a great deal of change for the better.
    Here is what James' says on this theme.
    "In my books I want people to look honestly at what our world is like, both the good and the evil. The evil in my books is not senseless, people’s lives are treated as precious and I want my readers to hurt when an innocent life is taken. The only way to do that is to let them see it on the page and then reflect on its meaning.I think that an effective way of dissuading someone from doing something is to make them see it as deeply disturbing. And the only way to make people disturbed by evil is to show it to them for what it really is." (http://stvjames.blogspot.com/2009/12/how-to-desensitize-people-to-violence.html)
    Mat

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  3. Hi David, thanks for your comment. I read the synopsis of your book and it looks fascinating. Very timely for the beginning of the school year!
    Matthew, thank you for your well-researched comments! As always, you have done your homework. It is very helpful to read what James himself says about his fiction. I picked up another of his books which was on prayer and could hardly believe it was the same author! I appreciate the link to his blog. There is no doubt whatsoever that his books are riveting. I am going to give them a second chance now that I know more of the rationale behind them!

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  4. I would say, by all means, look beyond the traditional Christian publishers for fiction books. It's true that some traditional Christian fiction is not that well written. At the same time, I don't really believe the only criteria the House of James would use would be good writing and only moderate graphic sex and language. Whether or not the writers are true believers, one would hope there would be at least some connection to the Christian meta-narrative. I'm not a big fan of the thrillers you mention, but it seems most of them are connected to that meta-narrative. Despite his mainstream appeal, writers like Grisham often do have redemptive / Christian themes and I would have no problem with the House of James stocking most of his books. At the same time, there are many good writers who have very different spiritual and philosophical moorings that conflict with the House of James main mission.

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  5. Chris, thanks for taking the time to articulate your thoughts. By "meta-narrative", do you mean over-arching theme?

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  6. One could say that. I probably should have said "worldview," rather than "meta-narrative." A bit less pretentious.:)

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