SOME FOOD FOR THOUGHT over the weekend from Glenn Myers, indie publisher and author at Fizz Books as well as Mission Journalist and Website Editor at WEC International. Glenn has published extensively with Authentic Media, Christian Focus, Scripture Union and WEC Publications, titles ranging from his fresh-out-of-college World Christian Starter Kit through to the more recent Life Lessons (Christian Focus, 2010).
Like so many others, Glenn has been watching the chaos within the Christian book trade over the last few years with some concern; here he reflects on the power and importance of storytelling and wonders whether that’s part of what’s missing from many of our bookshops…
Why I started telling stories to tell the truth
I have worked for around twenty years in mission journalism (and you may even have stocked some of my books), but I rediscovered something while walking the dog one summer evening about six years ago: my first love was comic fiction. So I went part-time at work and wrote a novel, didn’t sell it, formed my own publisher, and am now discovering the joys of indie publishing — a familiar enough story.
It has opened my eyes, though, to the power and virtues of storytelling. Here are a few:
- Humans have an insatiable desire for stories.
- We learn truth through stories, by putting ourselves somewhere in the intersection between the story we are living and the story we are being told. Who, for example, hasn’t heard the story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector and not wanted to pray like the Tax Collector?
- Stories bring a heart-learning, not a head-learning: exactly, in other words, where we want the gospel to go.
- Three-quarters of the Bible is story.
- Jesus told stories all the time (except when he was teaching his disciples). In fact, when he talks about the farmer sowing the seed, he’s not talking about ‘preaching the gospel’, he’s talking about telling stories.
- Jesus’ stories were (a) highly entertaining and (b) designed to make the hearers yearn for reconciliation with God, for a better world.
- Stories give people space to think things through for themselves, and thus learn deeper and better. Stories fit people’s hearts.
My experience of Christian bookshops is that they are not nearly so story-filled as our culture or our Bible. And I agree with Philip Yancey that it is curious what books Christian bookshops typically don’t stock.
To take a couple of random examples: I’ve just finished The Language of God by the former head of the Human Genome Project, Francis Collins. Published in the UK by Simon and Schuster, it’s a moving story of Francis Collins’ conversion to Christ, and it’s also as accomplished an account of the differing roles of science and faith as I have ever read. Or take the novels of Marilynne Robinson, which have won both the Pulitzer Prize and the Orange Prize for fiction and are just magnificent in their accounts of grace and prodigality within a context of Christian ministry and life. That’s before you start trawling the ocean of classic novels with their redemptive themes. It would be an interesting exercise to get Christian people to list the novels and biographies that cause their hearts to burn and yearn after God. And then stock them.
I expect there are many difficulties with this idea. But Christian bookshops have plenty of difficulties anyway! And isn’t this where Christian bookshops belong? Imagine a curated collection of novels and biographies, from whatever publisher, that are (a) very good and (b) cause people to yearn to meet God. This would be a bookshop that truly was for the High Street; that had a wonderful offering for anyone who was looking for a book for themselves or a present for a friend; and that truly did sow seeds of life.
Nice to dream anyway…
- Which novels and biographies, as Glenn puts it, make your heart “burn and yearn after God”?
- Do you stock fiction in your shop?
- If not, why not?
- If so, which titles/publishers would you recommend to other booksellers wanting to get started in this area or expand their range?