In 1936 George Orwell published an essay entitled ‘In Defence of the Novel’ in which he bemoaned the fact that the ‘prestige of the novel is extremely low’, and that those who read novels were ‘a less intelligent public’. What was the reason for the intelligent audience leaving the novel behind? In Orwell’s’ view it was the reviews. You see, book blurbs were written by ‘hack reviewers’ who were desperate for work and were employed by papers who were sponsored by the publishing companies. Therefore, every book they reviewed had to be great… no matter what. This led to people not trusting reviews and not reading novels.
As I read Orwell’s essay I had to wonder if we had fallen into this trap in the Christian paperback world.
It seems to me that every month a ‘life changing’ paperback is published. Somehow a band of Christian authors are able to write 2 to 3 amazing and definitive books every year. Yet, all but one or two of their books ever get reprinted, or last past the decade they were written in. However, the blurbs on the books (usually by their itinerate mates who live in huge log cabins somewhere near Colorado) rant that these books are God’s gift to the Christians paperback sub culture.
But many of these books are not good. Many of them are good. But many are rubbish (just like my sermons ;)). So why do the reviewers and blurb writers always have to be so over-the-top?
… Usually because they work for the same publisher or Christian organisation…
The end result is the same as with Orwell. Most Christian who have a brain don’t bother reading them. They’ve read one too many paperback change Bible translation 100 times in a book to get their desired meaning, or ignored the context of a verse to back up an anecdote where they look great, or have blatantly strung four sermons together and got an editor to finish it off purely to make money. Hence, a lot of mature Christians avoid Christian paperbacks.
But this is a great shame. Many Christian paperbacks are actually really good. I’m so glad that I read ‘too busy not to pray’ by Bill Hybels, ‘the sacred diary of Adrian Plass’, and ‘what’s so amazing about grace?’ by Yancey. Ok, they are not theologically perfect or balanced, but they make good points that are needed at the time. However, a lot that Hybels, Plass and Yancey have written are terrible (like many of my blogs;)) We need to be honest about that. Reviewers and blurb writers need to be honest about that. Christian publishers need to show more restraint in what they publish. But on the other hand, we shouldn’t ignore an author simply because he has written a dumb book where he didn’t dot all his i’s and cross all his t’s.
I think there is a place for the Christian paperback. I also believe it would be a great shame for them to disappear. But unless we drop the hype, the mates-blurb, and the lies… Christian paperbacks (although not the Puritan paperback series…) will cease to exist.
In the words of Orwell, they’ll end up like a ‘punch and judy’ show
Reviewers and blurb writers…. write Christianly!