Celebrating indie and small press titles: 20+ Hard-to-Find but Great-to-Own Books (Or: another reason independent booksellers deserve your support.)


go set a watchman.jpgWhat a fascinating week in the publishing world, with the
surprising release of a recently discovered, very old manuscript of Harper Lee,
a follow up to To Kill a Mockingbird
– which, we are just now hearing, includes a flash back of sorts, portraying the noble Atticus
Finch as a racist.  We are grateful
for those who pre-ordered Go Set a
from us; we are still selling it at a 25% discount (please visit our secure order form page or call.) I read To Kill a Mockingbird over the last weekend and cannot put into
words my admiration for Lee’s exceptionally artful telling of a story that

If some of this shows up in odd sizes or in bold, I apologize. The blog platform is acting up again tonight and I’m stymied. We have no IT guys, so, well, sorry. Thanks for your patience.


There were moments, naturally, that made me think of Wendell
Berry (and his Port Williams membership stories) and other new agrarian writers. Also, something about it reminded me a bit of authors these days who are, as they say, “fiercely independent.” Do you know Bill Kauffman, who calls
himself a “front porch patriot” or Rod Dreher (and his suburb new book on Dante) who
calls himself a “crunchy conservative”? There are books by liberal evangelicals and conservative radicals, pacifist pro-lifers, Pentecostal environmentalists, Calvinist poets, and joyous memoirs about death, and so much more that many publishers don’t quite know what to do with.  There are plenty of truly good mansucripts about which publishers realize they can’t make much profit, so they have to send their regrets to the hopeful author. There are so many fascinating authors who don’t fit into conventional
ideological boxes, who color outside the lines, so to speak, surprising us with
stories or teachings that we hadn’t considered previously.  Anyway, Atticus Finch in Mockingbird is such a decent a man that he defies political categorization. And that Scout: she’s got indie stuck
on her like white on rice.

Which brings me back to that book I reviewed last weekJesus, Bread, and Chocolate: Crafting a Handmade Faith in a
Mass-Marketed World
by John J. Thompson. I loved telling about that book, extolling the virtues of a
less commercialized, aesthetically-aware, relational way of thinking about the things we buy, the experiences we take in, the stores we support.  Not everything must be artisanal, and not everything can be ethically sourced, but surely Thompson makes a good case in Jesus, Bread, Chocolate that buying the cheapest or mass marketed isn’t always best. We should support the outliers sometimes, and appreciate the value of that which is a bit harder to find. Even the book I reviewed in the
BookNotes post before that
,The Day
Alternative Music Died
by Adam Caress explores this general topic, the
tensions between art and commerce, between finding and speaking true truth in artful ways
within the dominant culture that often reduces things to ease and popularity and profit .


I don’t want to suggest that all big businesses are
necessarily shallow and profiteering, that small is always beautiful, that chains or franchises
are inherently bad, or that hand-made, maker culture is always best. I know some big chains that deserve our support and I bet you know some family-owned local businesses which are frankly not very good and not very helpful.


Which leads me to this: we actually love most big publishers
and their ability to support their authors, publishing and marketing them widely so their books are known and available, bought and read. And we really like most mid-level ones that have resources
and professionalism, but are still small enough to care about their authors and their partnerships with bookstores – we wouldn’t be here without them.  I think, especially, of friends at InterVarsity Press, Baker Publishing Group and Eerdmans, who were very early supporters of our odd little bookstore here
in Central PA and remain indispensable for our ministry. (IVP is one of the few publishers that I think I can say that we order nearly every single new book that they release.) 

I’m not sure the DIY approach — self publishing, vanity presses, pay-to-publish schemes
— works best for serious authors, even in the changing world of book publishing and the new habits of book buying.  Further, I’m pessimistic about the take-over of the book marketplace by a few gigantic
billion-dollar on-line outfits which is neither healthy nor sustainable for authors,
readers, bookstores, literary culture, or the economy.  I know it sounds self-aggrandizing, but bookstores continue
to matter, and the quirky, family-owned shops can offer an idiosyncratic
selection (and tell you about them.)

We carry tons of best sellers and lots of books from the wellknown, standard publishers, both general market ones and those that are Christian; Catholic and Protestant and otherwise.

But we also (unlike many stores these days, it seems) handle a lot of odd-ball presses, smaller publishers, academic presses, indie, micro-publishers and other harder-to-find releases. We are not a used bookstore, but we do like to hunt for specialized resources and have our share of indie presses represented.



storied leadership.jpgOne of my best friends (who I not only like, but trust immensely) is Keith Martel.  He works at Geneva College in Beaver Falls, PA, and with Brian Jensen, another pal from
Geneva started their own micro-pub, The Falls City Press. Their first
book, Storied Leadership: Foundations of Leadership from a Christian Perspective was co-authored by Martel & Jensen and came out a
few months back, and, of course, we stock it. (I reviewed it here, and I do hope you read and consider it.) Keith wrote about the charm and value of small publishers in
a great essay, here.  

Or, consider (as I’m sure you have) the wonderful niche publishing venture Square Halo Books, which, as you may know, specializes in releasing very classy and thoughtful books about the relationship of Christian faith and the art world. Founded by a lovely theologically trained couple, and managed out of a Lancaster row home by graphic designer Ned Bustard, they have maybe not made much money, but they’ve square Halo Books logo.jpgcontributed to the publishing world in significant ways. They step out of their artsy wheelhouse a bit, and have a Biblical studies volume or two (one by Alan Bauer called The Beginning, which includes woodcuts) and one called The End.) And, let’s not forget — hear ye, hear ye —  they released Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life, a collection of college graduation speeches, edited by yours truly.  If you are a Hearts & Minds fan and don’t have my book yet, well… you can learn a bit more about it below.  I think Square Halo Books is a great example of a very impressive publishing house that has a limited number of books with a pretty clear focus, which they design and publish very well, as a labor of love.  I wish every bookstore in the land carried their titles.

One of the great recent publishing projects in recent years that we think you should know is one with our friend Ed Eubanks at the helm, Kalos Press. Although it has some connections to another indie project (Doulous Resources) it is a fabulous example of how a small, new Kalos logo - small website.pngpublisher can produce lovely, well written and highly regarded books. I have been exceptionally pleased with the first few books they’ve mid-wived, including the wonderful rural memoir The Exact Place by Margie Haack, and her follow-up collection of meditations and ruminations, God in the Kitchen Sink, as well as other well-written, very nice titles. Their latest release, which I have named a time or two, but still want to spend more time reviewing carefully is so good, so exquisitely written, so moving, wise and interesting that it simply must be explained well. I refer to Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure by Nancy J. Nordenson (Kalos Press; $14.99.) Please do come back and send orders our way, but you should visit their nice website just to read about their own hopes and dreams as a literary, thoughtfully Christian publisher. We want to stock all their books!

They are not alone. Small and independent publishing houses
stand in a venerable tradition. Did you know that the small UCC publishing
house called The Pilgrim Press was named because of their congregational heritage:
on the Mayflower the pilgrims brought to the New World a printing press! 

Family owned businesses like ours can pretty much carry
whatever books we want (as long as the publisher will work with us; some will
not. Especially some of the new self-publishing outfits where authors sign contracts giving amazon exclusive wholesale dibs.) We really enjoy curating our selection, some of it rather customary, some of it very intentionally chosen and featured because, well, because we can. It’s what we do.

We try to cater to our own best customers, of course, offering what they want,
but we also carry whatever we most appreciate, including under-the-radar authors we respect,
titles that we want to Byron & Beth.jpgpromote, even if the big chains refuse them.  Because we’re small, we don’t sell as
many copies of anything as we would wish (sorry, indie-authors and struggling publishers) but we try. Like in a favorite old Bill Mallonee song, we “give it all we got, it’s the way we play the game.”  Beth and I may have a little less energy
than we once did, but we can still be pretty nimble, curating and reviewing a diverse
selection of titles we believe in or that we think deserves a hearing, drawing
on large mainstream commercial publishing houses, mid-sized missional presses (driven by their principles, ideologies or values) and boutique publishers and solo authors in all their funky glory.

Here is a list of just a sampling of books that we stock that are
all from micro-publishers, independent and/or small press houses.  There are mostly not self-published, but
are vetted by smart, creative, acquisitions editors and worked on by serious, craft publishers.

Everlasting Is the Past- A Memoir  .jpgEverlasting Is the Past: A Memoir  Walter Wangerin, Jr. (Rabbit Room Press) $14.95  My, my, we are so glad to be able to tell about this small Nashville-based publishing venture (and their own little retail shop) which does, among other things, the fantasy novels of Christian musician and storyteller Andrew Peterson.  We were so glad when years ago they picked up the lovely little book about homemaking by Andi Ashworth, a staple here, called Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring.) Now they’ve outdone themselves with the brand new release of this fabulous looking memoir by the great Lutheran writer, Walt Wangerin. Rev. Wangerin has won award after award and is known for fantasy, kids picture books, contemporary Biblical narrative, Bible studies, books on prayer and marriage and suffering. His serious bout with cancer made many pray hard for him and I wondered if he had another book in him.  This paperback with neat french folds is handsome and is a great example of what a small press can do when it works with commitments to excellence and beauty and substance.  Kudos. 

From Evolution to Eden- Making Sense of Early Genesis.jpgFrom Evolution to Eden: Making Sense of Early Genesis  Gregory Laughery & George Diepstra (destinee) $14.99 What a classy and very indie publisher, mostly designed to offer a platform for the extraordinary writing of Greg Laughery, who works at the Swiss L’Abri, and others in his orbit. Here he has been joined by George Diepstra, a scientist, to “rethink common assumptions about the nature of Genesis 1-3.”  “What kind of text is this?”, they ask. In a provocative and creative manner, Laughery and Diepstra take the Bible, theology and science seriously, arguing for the necessity of a dialogue between them and the worlds they represent. They insist that they are innovative, not reactionary.  Also from Destinee, see Ellis Potter’s thoughtful 3 Theories of Everything and a few great books by Dick Keyes, and more.

The Joy of Missing Out- Finding Balance in a Wired World .jpgThe Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World Christian Crook (New Society Publishers) $17.95  I was so excited to stock this for a couple of reasons: when we we first opened in the very early 1980s we stocked nearly everything from this 70-ish, counter-cultural publishing collective, an eco-oriented, lefty, press that did good stuff about justice, sustainability, homesteading, nonviolence, even alternative schooling.  What a blast to recently see a new author on NSP that we recognized from the Kuyperian Comment magazine, with endorsements from the likes of heady Wheaton College communications scholar Read Mercer Schuchardt or the popular evangelical blogger Hands Free Mama (who says this book is “a life-changer for anyone experiencing the pressure and disconnection of a fast-paced media-saturated culture.”) I swear we thought we were the only evangelicals they knew this publishing venture. We respect these folks, like this author,  and think this is a great example of a mature, thoughtful, profoundly Christian book that most likely isn’t sold in most religious bookstores. We’ve got it!  And as much time as most of us spend on line, it provides wise, thoughtful, and maybe life-saving insight.  She’s no Luddite, but it is an eloquent, hard-hitting call to resist.

There's a Woman in the Pulpit- Christian Clergywomen Share .jpgThere’s a Woman in the Pulpit: Christian Clergywomen Share Their Hard Days, Holy Moments & The Healing Power of Humor edited by Rev. Martha Spong (Skylights Paths Publishing) $18.99 Skylight Paths is a great example of a trend of the last decades — religious publishers that have developed that are neither subsidiaries of the big corporations nor explicitly sectarian.  That is, there have always been religious titles published within the larger, mainstream publishing world and there have always been evangelical or Catholic or denominationally-specific publishing houses. But a decade or so ago we started to see idiosyncratic presses, not owned by big publishers or denominations.  Skylight Paths is actually an ecumenical and inter-faith division of Jewish Lights, a major publisher of culturally relevant, upbeat and usually somewhat liberal or Reform Judaism. Skylight features tons of curious books — children’s picture books (for instance, those by Rabbi Sandi Sasso), books on the spirituality of knitting, say, or the virtues of civility, or books on contemplative spirituality or interfaith marriage. We stock most of them.  This recent one — edited by a UCC pastor in Central Pennsylvania (who also directs the RevGalBLogPals blog) invited stories from female clergy, and the testimonials are poignant, sometimes very funny, occasionally tragic, and often just give a well-written window into the life of women in ministry.  Carol Howard Merritt wrote the fabulous, generous foreword.  Rev. Dr. Amy Butler (senior minister of Riverside Church in NYC) describes the chapters as “lyrical, grace-filled, brutally honest…”  I know of several of the contributors to this diverse volume, and have featured it at several book displays this Spring.  For now, we list it as a great illustration of the sorts of work offered by Skylight Paths, of Woodstock, Vermont.  

Slow Pilgrim- The Collected Poems.jpgSlow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems Scott Cairns (Paraclete Press) $39.00  Is Paraclete Press an “indie” publisher? They developed decades ago out of a spiritual renewal that emerged among an Episcopalian community out on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and now are a rather large, ecumenical, monastic community rooted in the Benedictine tradition — our sales reps (all great readers) go by “Sister.” As a publisher they are hugely significant, do exquisite work, and it is my sense that the role they play within religious publishing far exceeds their relatively small number of titles and employees.  We stock all of their books, including this recent one, a very handsome volume (with a beautiful cover) collecting the important work of this respected Orthodox poet.  The introduction is by Image journal editor Gregory Wolfe who writes that it is “An enormous gift not only to the literary community but also to all who feel themselves embarked on a pilgrimage through life.” Kudos to the Sisters, and others, who bring work like this to us.  We stock nearly all of their books.

Burning Down the Fireproof Hotel.jpgBurning Down the Fireproof Hotel: An Invitation to the Beautiful Life
Cary Campbell Umhau (Spacious) $12.95  Umhau is the founder and
Creative Director of SPACIOUS, a movement that conspires to “turn
strangers into neighbors” this this book emerges from her small
ministry, not quite self published., and it is just wonderful.  Her
energetic work and colorful writing has been featured in the Washington Post and The Huffington Post; this
small press release chronicles her movement into this creative space,
inviting others to takes rises, celebrating life and beauty.  Dan
Allender says this well written book helps him “to see in the
disruptive, the real, and the odd, the allure of what my heart wants
most: elegant, wild grace. Take a ride with Cary and taste the goodness
of how her words take you to Jesus.”  Or, listen to this rowdy rock and
roll singer, the Ashley Cleveland: “Thank God that he wooed Cary out of
her safe house and sent her road tripping into a big, messy, meaningful
life, setting open tables in concrete parks, letting in the world’s
sorrows and strangers, and finding her place among them.”  

Every Square Inch- An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians Bruce Riley Ashford .jpgEvery Square Inch: An Introduction to Cultural Engagement for Christians Bruce Riley Ashford (Lexham Press) $14.99  I sure thought this was a fully independent, small press, but I see on the back that it they have a partnership for some books published in concert with Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary; they are actully owned by Logos Bible Software.   Be that as it may, not too many stores carry Lexham, but with the title drawing from the famous speech by one of our heros, Dutch theologian and statesman Abraham Kuyper, we had to get this.  How does our faith impact our everyday lives? To what extend and how can we be involved in the reformation of society? Ashford is a Professor of Theology and Culture and a Provost at the seminary, and the editor of a book compiling the stories of Baptist missionaries and missiologists. A smallish hardback which is very handsomely designed, Every Square Inch will appeal to fans of Kuyper, Schaeffer,  C.S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers (about whom he has a small section.) We are proud to commend it, and congratulate Lexham/Logos for this entry to the world of non-digital, hard-cover, hold in the hand books.

wisdom & wonder_front.jpgindex.jpgScholarship: Two Convocation Addresses On University Life Abraham Kuyper (Christian’s Library Press) $4.95  Oh, what a labor of love this project has been — a team of scholars meticulously translating various works from the great Dutch reformer, dating back from the late 1800s or early 1900s. Although this has been somewhat funded by Kuyper College in Grand Rapids, the CLP offices are affiliated with the mostly Roman Catholic Acton Institute (who themselves translate early theological thinking from the late Medieval and Early Modern period, stuff on usury, banking, political rights, religious freedom, and such.) Don’t you just love these creative publishing partnerships?  Not quite an academic press, but investing in the meaty work by an older, European theologian and cultural critic, CLP isn’t going to get them easily into the chain stores or top-selling kiosks at the Christian Booksellers Association; it is nonetheless exceedingly important.  This little volume includes the famous “every square inch” line, first proclaimed in Kuyper’s famous inauguration speech of the founding of the Free University of Amsterdam in 1889.  Christian’s Library Press is currently working on the translation and release of a three volume series of Kuyper’s on common grace.  The first intro to that is Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in the Arts and Sciences ($14.99) which remains our best selling title of this small publisher. Our friend Dr. Vincent Bacote wrote the introduction to this while Gabe Lyon & Jon Tyson penned the forward.

The Psalms of Israel Jones Ed Davis .jpgThe Psalms of Israel Jones Ed Davis (Vandalia Press) $16.99  This very imaginative, well-written novel won a Hackney Literary Award, and in a blurb by novelist Lee Abbott, it is affirmed “no least for the zillion writers and religious thinkers I find in it, among them Dickens, Melville, Jonathan Edwards, Increase Mather, Jimmy Swaggert, and Walker Percy. The plot is straight out of On the Road with the same moral risk and ambiguities and the prose is rich.” What sane publisher does a novel that shouts on the back that it is about “secrets and snakes, rock and gospel, guilt and grace.” And which is also a father/son story,  includes a weird cult, and a bit of rock and roll hell.  Vandalia Press is an imprint of West Virginia University Press and may not be purely independent, it is small and renowned.  Some great stories are being told by independent publishers that specialize in literature, and this is just one fun example.  And while university presses are another ball game altogether, some offer amazing books that are not adequately known or widely available.

cowboy year from a.jpgThe Cowboy Year: A Story of Dads and Guns Ethan D. Bryan (eLectio) $16.99  I hope you know that we love the several books of Ethan Bryan, and we’ve reviewed them all — includes these by this very interesting small publisher, eLectio with the tag line “First Century Prcinples. A Twenty-first Century Approach.”  I’m glad they released his Tales of the Taylor: Songs that Changed the World (a fantastic bit of reportage bout Ethan’s social-justice oriented Christian music ministry, the places his beloved Taylor acoustic guitar has been, and the people who signed it), Catch and Release: Faith, Freedom and Knuckleballs (a great story about his wonderful, quixotic campaign to break records playing catch, raising money to fight modern day slavery), and Striking Out ALS: A Hero’s Tale, a lovely Missouri story about a little league coach and legend of local baseball who was afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This new one deserves a better review, but it is about something akin to a dude ranch, and the author’s trip with his dad — J-Bar — as they mosey on over to learn more about how he became a multi-state cowboy action shooting champion.  He weaves in everybody from Samwise Gamgee to Ray Kinsella to, yup, Roy Rogers. God bless eLectio for taking a chance on this artful, thoughtful writer who certainly entertains, even as he gently prod us into seeing with the heart, new possibilities, all with earnestness and joy. I don’t know if a normal publisher would do a quiet book like this but I am glad for eLectio, and honored to stock Ethan’s story of The Cowboy Year with his dad.

A+letter+to+my+congregation.jpgA Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embracing People Who Are Gay, Lesbian and Transgender into the Company of Jesus Ken Wilson (Read the Spirit) $18.95 It would take an indie publisher to do a book like this, from an evangelical pastor of a church which is part of a charismatic association, writing, as he does, a pastoral epistle to his flock explaining why he has changed his mind about full inclusion of GLTB folks into their Vineyard Fellowship. (Not only does he works with the standard texts, but offers some reflections on what “both sides” agree upon, and brings up the “disputable matters” approach from the apostle Paul at the end of Romans.) Phyllis Tickles says it is “one of the most exquisite, painful, candid, brilliant pieces of contemporary Christian midrash that I have ever seen.” But who would publish this — it’s just too evangelical for most mainline religious publishers, too risky for evangelical presses, a bit too local and unique for a national house. So, Read the Spirit stepped up. I wonder how many stores actually carry this?  We do.

St. John Before jpgSt. John Before Breakfast Brian Walsh and the Wine Before Breakfast Community (Books Before Breakfast) $18.00  I have reviewed this at length at BookNotes, celebrating that the early morning homilies and litanies of my friend Brian Walsh — a CRC campus minister at the University of Toronto — are available for a wider audience. Can walking through the gospel of John, in a free-verse, poetic style that is at once academically sound, pastorally wise, and culturally subversive really shape the imagination of a motley crew of folks gathered for prayer at a world class university? As the copy on the back of the very handsome volume asks “What happens when you allow the evocative narratives, symbols, and imagery of this gospel to direct your prayers, shape your liturgy and transform your life?” Hold on as you go along for the ride, reading over the shoulders of these folks wanting to see how the Word becomes flesh among them. I wonder if this community will publisher more books out of the U of T location?  We are delighted to be a US vendor for this one of a kind resource.

The World is On Fire- Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse.jpgThe World is On Fire: Scrap, Treasure, and Songs of Apocalypse Joni Tevis (Milkweed Editions) $16.00 Milkweek is a wonderfully brilliant and respected literary house whose books are mostly in the genre of what we sometimes call “nature writing.” Luminous, reflective essays about our life in the world, from natural history to the spirituality of the mundane, Milkweed offers extraordinary titles that are not as known as they should be. In this case, Tevis does memoir and creative nonfiction, conjuring memories and insights about the meaning of stuff and the nature of our fears about the end of time. I like Amy Leach’s exclamation that it is “A whale of a book, bringing us the most wonderful things from the ends of the earth.”  The prestigious Kirkus Reviews suggested her essays brought to mind the likes of poets Gerard Manley Hopkins and Mary Oliver.


First Church of the Higher Elevations- Mountains, Prayer, and Presence.jpgFirst Church of the Higher Elevations: Mountains, Prayer, and Presence Peter Anderson (Conundrum Press) $14.99  Designer and book lover Caleb Seeling (whose work you may know from his design of the  first book by Makoto Fujimura, Refractions: A Journey of Faith, Art and Culture) got out of Christian publishing a few years back, bought up an almost defunct small press that published Colorado poets, and started attracting his own quirky, classy manuscripts.  He released a fantastic novel about Bar-B Q, baseball, and race-relations (Thin Blue Smoke), my friend Ethan Bryant’s first book, Run Home and Take a Bow: Stories of Life, Faith, and a Season with the Kansas City Royals, and a fabulously interesting collection of 50 movie reviews (written by a Brit) of films which are set in each of the 50 states of the union (Cinematic States: Stories We Tell, the American Dreamlife, and How to Understand Everything.) This is indie publishing for real, and as a bookstore we are thrilled to be able to stock some of his unique array of books. Who wouldn’t want to browse through titles like this? Conundrum Press, by the way, is an imprint of Caleb’s Samizdat Publishing Group.  What a blast!  This book is extraordinary, literary and spiritual, written by a Quaker (who studied at Earlham, of course) crafting contemplative essays set in his outdoor excursions.  On the back it suggests that Anderson “explores the scripture of place, the topography of memory, and the landscape of imagination.”  Gregory Wolfe of the Image journal says it is “eclectically and profoundly American.”  If you love mature reflections on outdoor adventure, Quaker spirituality with references to The Dharma Bums and Tom Merton’s Waters of Silo and a few Bible texts, or the great American West —  Utah, Colorado and more — this will be a book you will cherish. It is good to get to tell you about it.

How Then Should We Work- Discovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work .jpgHow Then Should We Work: Discovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work Hugh Whelchel (Westbow Press) $13.95  I wasn’t sure if I should list this as Westbow has become a bit of a self publishing house, but it is more vetted than most, and with ties to a larger publisher can, in some ways, offer the best of both worlds to authors wanting to do their own thing.  Most of their books are probably not picked up by the chains or big stores. I was thrilled to review this excellent book when it first came out, honoring its solid theological and Biblical views, its pleasant and inspiring prose, and its helpful, foundational framework for thinking faithfully about the cultural mandate, the call to work, the meaning of vocation and call and the like.  If you want to “reweave shalom” in your workplace and desire a clear-headed Christian view, this author with a experience in the business world, the nonprofit sector and a former seminary President can help. It is, sadly, a bit rare, and we are glad to recommend it often.

when the lights go down.jpgI Just Need Time to Think.jpgWhen the Lights Go Down: Movie Review as Christian Practice Mark Eckel (Westbow Press) $19.95  Another selection we stock from Westbow, this one also deserves wider attention, and because of its rather indie status, it just may not be as known as other titles in this field of faith based film studies.  Yet, this is a really marvelous resource, written by a lively evangelical with solid theological chops and a positive, wise way about helping us all appreciate movies and thinking about them faithfully.  It includes interviews with film makers and other critics and he tells stories of his own use of film in his Ohio church. We also loved his I Just Need Time to Think: Reflective Study as a Christian Practice which is also published by Westbow Press ($13.99.) Highly recommended for college students, especially, but as he explains, all of us need a bit of time to just think about things; study is, in fact, a classic spiritual discipline.  I wish every Christian bookstore in the country carried this book!  We wish we took orders for it more often — it is a helpful resource.

Deepening the Colors- Life Inside the Story of God .jpgDeepening the Colors: Life Inside the Story of God Syd Hilema (Dordt College Press) $14.00  I wasn’t going to list academic press publishing houses, since they are not exactly indie — most are owned by colleges or universities (or at least think tanks) even though some may really feel like small press outfits. When thinking of scholarly presses one must include the two oldest and most prestigious publishers in the world — Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press — which are anything but small. We stock many of their releases (a visit from our Oxford rep is a highlight of our season) but that’s another list, I’m afraid. But then there are very small publishing houses run by very small colleges, and we are very eager to list such a publisher here.  Dordt College is a thoughtful liberal arts Christian college in Sioux Center, Iowa, and this fine book represents a nice example of the quality writing and neo-Calvinist/Kuyperian reformational worldview that they promote.  If any college takes seriously the call to “integrate faith and scholarship” I am sure Dordt is one which has worked thoughtfully to that.  This very nicely written book is ideal for young adults wanting to envision their own lives as part of the unfolding drama of God’s work in the world, and Hilema helps us all learn to imagine our life in uniquely Christian categories, being informed by realities such as being made in the image of God, being called, and offers guidance on how we can learn to embrace and embody wisdom in God’s world.  I love this book, and am glad for our small partnership with Dordt College Press. (You may recall their name from earlier BookNotes as I was very vigorous in telling about how significant it was that a year or so ago Dordt College Press released a six-volume set of the writings of Calvin Seerveld, which I called a “bona-fide publishing event.” This is a great read, and we are glad we are liberty to stock it, to tell folks about it, and to help get the word out.  

Poetry Night at the Ballpark and Other Scenes from an Alternative America .jpgPoetry Night at the Ballpark and Other Scenes from an Alternative America (Writings: 1986 – 2014) Bill Kauffman (Front Porch Republic Books) $49.00  Well, if an icon of feisty American writing such as Edward Abbey says a writer is “inspiring and restorative” or someone as known as Gore Vidal raves, one would think his or her books would be picked up by the best houses and widely reviewed and easily found.  Alas, while I don’t know the whole story, it seems that Bill Kauffman is just too odd. He is, as classic liberal Democrat George McGovern puts it “a conservative of the highest order” which is to say he isn’t quite like the ones currently well known. Vidal calls him a “romantic reactionary.”  You see, it’s that whole bit about not coloring within the lines, offering a truly fresh voice, moving beyond tired ideological categories.  This is independent publishing at its finest, and it doesn’t surprise me that Kauffman needs a special imprint just to find his audience. This is the first title of FPR books —  their logo is a rocking chair, inviting real conversation among neighbors — and we are honored to stock it.  Tom Bissell says “Bill Kauffman is one of America’s funniest and wisest writers. Not only can he make anarchism seem lovable, he forces you to reassess everything you believe about American politics and culture. He might even make you change your life.”  Over 400 pages of short columns, book reviews, essays and previously published pieces, Poetry Night at the Ballpark is extraordinary, literally, and I will write more about it soon. For now, we are happy to see the formation of yet another fine book imprint, one that is a bit off the beaten path; we hope thoughtful book buyers can find it — hopefully at a real store, maybe one with a porch, and an independent streak that may seem perplexing to those only used to the standard, predicable opinions of MSNBC or Fox News. 

life as worship.jpgLife as Worship John Kitchen (CLC Publications) $13.99  Again, what constitutes a truly indie press? What used to be known as the Christian Literature Crusade, headquartered here in Pennsylvania, is not really small — they are an old-school, storied nonprofit publisher, doing evangelical global ministry and inner city work and publishing books on the “deeper life” for over 50 years. They emerged from the Keswick movement which began in England in 1875. CLC is still is not terribly well known outside a certain sort of reader, even though they have served us well by bringing authors such as Andrew Murray and Corrie Ten Boom and Watchman Nee to English publication. (Or, perhaps, releasing their lesser known works after larger houses published their most famous books.) They even have a chain of not-for-profit bookstores. We applaud their tenacity, continuing to release books to help ordinary folks grow in Christ.  This new one by a CM&A pastor with a Dmin from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School is one example – a study of the Psalms, but with a view of how these Psalms help us find ways to worship God in all we do, day by day. (“At the speed of life,” he colorfully says.) The very title is useful (even if the cover art is a bit, uh, well…) We are happy to celebrate their good work, invite you to consider their many titles, and want to thank them not only for their energetic commitment to evangelical publishing, but for releasing a book like this. It is very highly recommended.

Serious Dreams cover.jpgSerious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $12.99 Square Halo Books is a quintessential indie small press, uniquely their own and created with verve and excellence.  Family-owned by a delightful, theologically trained couple, with one hired employee — Ned Bustard who has a day job as a graphic designer — and just a handful of titles, Square Halo offers books mostly within the niche market topic of the interface of Christian faith and the arts.  We stock all of their books, and talk about them often — their recent Bigger on the Inside: Christianity and Dr. Who (edited by Greg Thornbury and Bustard) has gotten great acclaim and we’ve shipped them to England, in fact.  I often suggest a few of their key backlist books (It Was Good: Making Art to the Glory of God and It Was Good: Making Music to the Glory of God) as true favorites, and must-have titles.  I was very grateful that Ned and his backers agreed to allow me to compile and edit this collection of graduation speeches, designed to send young adults into the world with a sense of purposed, grounded in visions of vocation, a sense of place and a sense of call.  We’re glad that we’ve sold a nice amount of these, even if, having been published by a small indie press with one employee, nobody much outside of our circle of friends knows about it.  Ahh, the ups and downs of indie publishing.  We’re glad it worked out this way; I was allowed to be very involved, it is so very handsomely produced, and we are delighted to celebrate it, honored to have it in their catalog of other wonderful titles.  You can read my enthusiastic description of the authors and chapters that I brought together in this — and, if your inclined, send us an order.  You’ll be supporting an eccentric bookstore and a top notch very small publisher and get yourself a book that many of your reading buddies mostly don’t know about.  Happy reading!



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