At year’s end many good friends wondered how the year was for us, financially-speaking. One doesn’t have to be a greedy tycoon to realize that businesses must, well, do business. If we don’t make enough to pay our staff–not to mention our publishers and suppliers–we simply won’t remain solvent. I don’t mean to sound apocalyptic, but in this age of amazon and cbd, where cheap price is a chief consideration, smaller stores, charming as they may be, often lose out. I sometimes grow cynical knowing that some folks, some churches, some authors doing research, will miss us, or others like us, if we’re gone, and they will then wonder why. Perhaps that they “picked my brain” for the best book on this or that, and then purchased said book elsewhere, will be part of the story. I know other small stores that also seek to provide great service and passion and care and as much as some truly appreciate this, the demise of the local economy and the lack of support of indie stores is undoing them. Anyway, we appreciate your “vote in the marketplace” and trust that with your help we will flourish in 2011.
Having said that–the obligatory morality tale over for now–I think there are other, equally pressing issues that plague especially my colleagues in religious book sales. One I won’t talk about now–don’t get me started–is what some call “Jesus junk” and the problem of stores that carry insubstantial stuff, or God-and-county pablum that doesn’t advance the Kingdom of Christ. I will refer you to Shane Claiborne’s fine two-part op-ed floating around the internet gently chiding the weird compromises of the “Christian industrial complex.” Don’t miss Part Two of that piece, either! That there is plenty of evangelical crap like “Christian toothbrushes” and Catholic perversity like “The Pope’s Cologne” causes me to roll my eyes, but I don’t have energy to fight those battles. What really gets me worked up is our lack of reading.
Earlier in the year I tweeted a tweet that had been tweeted to me. (Yup, I did and I do.) It was a very good little piece telling how an author was shocked that so many Christian bookstore managers she met while promoting her books don’t seem to read; then it dawned on her that some pastors don’t either. (I was surprised that she was shocked, I must say.) First published at Burnside Writer’s Collective, you really should read it and perhaps share it.
Then, just a few days ago, I read an article in one of the professional journals we get, Christian Retailing. It was a piece written to other Christian booksellers but as soon as I read it I knew I had to share it with our friends and customers. Beth and I have been at this work for nearly 30 years and it was one of the best “industry” pieces I’ve read. It is about the need for Christian bookstore staff to read more, to love books.
I hope you read it. David Almack (U.S. Director of CLC International) notes that “Reading is our industry’s key to survival: knowing and loving the books we publish and sell is essential to our success.” I sure know that I could learn a bit more about the details of management, overhead, inventory control, tax law, advertising, and whatnot. But it is our passion for books and our commitment to the sometimes tedious ministry of helping folks with their habits of reading that is at the heart of our calling. The small gang that works with us here were asked about their favorite authors and reading habits in their first interview. None of us are brainy, but we are each here because of what Mr. Almack reminds us of: we believe books make a difference, that reading is an important aspect of faithful Christian living in these complex times, and that it is a great privilege to serve those who want to make a difference in the world—which we try to do by curating a book selection that might help deepen their discipleship, offer them new worlds through reading, and by writing reviews that we hope inform people about useful and faithful resources. We love selling books.
The very great High Callings blog (do sign up if you’d like) recently posted this brainy and well-written rumination on the task of book-selling. You might enjoy it; it sure struck a cord with me.
From yet another blog, Across the Page, here is a spectacular list of 25 reasons to read. Very, very nice. Spread the word! I think many could benefit from being reminded.
BOOKS ABOUT BOOKS
We have a section in our shop we call “books about books” which is a sub-section of our “literary criticism” section. I pulled a few random ones to give you a feel. If you are a book lover, you’ll love reading about them. If you don’t want to own them, check ’em out of your library! Sometimes, it’s helpful to remind ourselves about the joy of doing this eyeball-to-the-print, thing.
Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books Maureen Corrigan (Vintage) $13.95 You know the author as the book critic on NPR’s Fresh Air and here she tells of her life as an obsessive reader. This has some very, very great stories and some true insights.
Running the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian Avi Steinberg (Doubleday) $26.00 The old “library stamps” are used to great effect on this cool cover as they make up the face of the author. The book is hip and breezy and pretty darn vulgar (set, as it is, in prison. Be warned.) It is nonetheless a wise and good memoir that one reviewer describes as “a cross between Dante’s Inferno and HBO’s The Wire.” Another blurb offers “Imagine Kafka as a prison librarian” which is clever, but this joyful book is not dark nor Kafkaesque. I like the humorist A.J. Jacobs who says it is “also about love, religion, Shakespeare, murder, the human condition, and Ali G. This is a book for everybody who loves books—felons and non-felons alike.”
Read for Your Life: 11 Ways to Transform Your Life With Books
Pat Williams (HCI) $14.95 Williams is a renowned basketball coach,
motivational speaker, and inspirational author. The publisher is a
classic “self help” press (ever hear of those Chicken Soup books?)
Well, he really does know how to tweak the lazy soul, and his 11
pointers are right on. He has a tremendous gift of offering uplifting
advice, in small chunks, with easy-to-understand side-bars and bullet
points. Get this for anyone who needs reminding of the importance of a
life-changing habit of reading, or for anyone that needs a “life coach”
to walk them through the stages of becoming a life-long reader. Nice.
The Call of Stories: Teaching and the Moral Imagination Robert Coles (Houghton Mifflin) $14.00 How many books do you know that have a blurb on the back from Catholic novelist Walker Percy? Who, by the way, says this is “Coles at his wisest and best.” Here he holds up his conviction that we can move directly from stories to our lives, that the stories of others help us construe our own lives. Serious literary criticism, narrative thinking, storytelling and how to teach ethics, or discern a life well lived. Rich, thoughtful, mature, life-giving stuff. This is a book to read and re-read, to consider often.
Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection Robert Coles (Random House) $27.00 Recently released and edited by two of his students, this is stuff from the legendary course at Harvard, similar to the one listed above. Delve wisely into writers such as Orwell and Agee, and Ellison, Zora Neale Hurston and Raymond Carver, seeking “character, courage, and compassion.” I’ve read the demanding and rewarding forward four times so far. Stunning.
How to Read Slowly: Reading for Comprehension James Sire (Waterbrook) $13.99 Oh how I wish we’d sell more of this: it is about how to read “between the lines” and discern the deepest convictions, arguments, claims and presuppositions of the authors. To fully engage (and benefit from, or critique the flaws of) any book—fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose–we must seek out the author’s viewpoint. Sire shows how.
How to Read a Book: The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading Mortimer Adler & Charles Van Doren (Touchstone) $16.99 A classic. Truly.
Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You’ve Always Wanted to Read Louise Cowan & Os Guinness (Baker) $16.97 What a bargain on a lavish and full color guide to the best of Western literature. A fine overview, handbook, and introduction.
Opening Hearts By Opening Minds Connie Wineland (Wipf & Stock) $23.00 I wish this weren’t so pricey, but it is almost three books in one since it covers a lot of ground. First, the author narrates her own conversation to Christian faith by reading quality fiction. Then, there are some helpful sections about reading widely and wisely and her own annotated lists of helpful books in various areas. Thirdly, there are discussion questions and tips for running a thoughtful book club. There may be other such books, but this brings the kind of perspective that I think many of our customers would appreciate. This is one sharp woman, widely read in world literature. She teaches in Ohio, living in Kentucky.
The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age Sven Birkerts (Faber & Faber) $15.00 I’ve described this every few years it seems, in a blog, magazine or talk show, and I never tire of telling about how it moved me so. It is a lament for the loss of literature in these days, a memoir about the authors work in book-selling and college teaching, and his reflections about how the experience of the solitary reading of a book can effect the reader’s inner life. If you care about books or electronic culture or the pleasures of reading, this will be become a treasured volume, I’m sure.
The Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time David Ulin (Sasquatch Books) $12.95 This brief essay, in a lovely hand-sized hardback, is both memoir and criticism, noting that reading has been considered a revolutionary act—but, in an electronic age, does it even matter.
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books Azar Nafisi () $15.00 You most likely have heard of this memoir of the Iranian revolution and its effects on women, written by a brave college professor there. It is a widely respected memoir of the power of teaching modern literature in a cultural context of repression, a story of banned books and the courage to read–from Fitzgerald to Jane Austen and more. One reviewer called it “anguished and glorious.”
Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should Have, or Could Create a Christian
Culture Dan Gibson, Jordan Green, John Pattison and others (Biblica) $14.99 I hope you saw our review of this previously since I am pretty excited about it. Am I uncouth to say I have a small chapter here, and have that little extra reason to want you to consider it? I was honored to be asked to join these three dudes, and a batch of other smart readers, each of us reviewing one of the 100 books chosen “besides the Bible” that we book-lovers hope others read? There are some great little pieces in here, making their case for some truly wonderful books. This is a wonderful, wonderful gift for book lovers, for those eager to build a library, for anyone wanting advice on “what to read next.” Get it, give it, use it. You’ll be inspired, I’m sure. It includes overtly Christian books and those that are not, it includes old and new books, fiction and non-fiction. Quite a list! Follow their bookish blog, too. Love it!
WHILE SUPPLIES LAST. ONE FREE WITH ANY PURCHASE FROM THIS LIST.
How To Read a Christian Book David L. McKenna (Baker) $10.99 McKenna is smart and well read and has worked in higher education for decades (currently at Asbury Seminary.) This has a nice section on why Christians should read, it is jam-packed with lists and suggestions, and helps navigate the overwhelming amount of reading options and huge selection, guiding readers through a reading plan. The title may seem a bit odd, maybe a play on Adler. Still, it is very very nice. We’ll give ya one with any purchase.
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