Friday, January 6, 2012

Christian Bookstores

So one of my favorite small independent bookstores is going out of business.  It's a small-town bookstore, and I thought they had a lovely ambience and a great selection of different genres of books.  In the back was a children's book section with a mini log cabin and a display of all of Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books.  (This town is not far from the site of "Little House in the Big Woods.") 

Still, the bookstore is in a small town, and small town economies are in tough shape.  It's in the historic downtown, where businesses are leaving (there's a thriving new area with several chain stores along the highway).   We all know that the bookstore business is in decline.

So I'm walking down the straight and I notice that there is not just this one bookstore in town.  There's also a Christian Bookstore.  And it's not going out of business, as far as I can tell.

Now I can't tell you if this bookstore is doing well or not; all I know is that's it's not going out of business.  I can also say that even though I call this a "Christian Bookstore", it's probably more appropriate to call it a Christian book, card and gift shop.  And of course, it features a modest selection of Bibles (though not the translation I use most), and some devotional books.

Though I suppose it's not fair as I have not been inside, this bookstore does seem familiar to me, as I have been in a number of Christian bookstore in my life, starting at about the time when I was having my flirtation with the evangelical and charismatic movements.  I started out liking them, but soon began fantasizing about opening my own bookstore, because I wanted a more diverse selection of spiritual books, to match the diversity of my own spiritual journey.

So for many years in the back of mind I've had this "impossible dream" about a Christian bookstore, but also I couldn't help noticing that all of the other Christian bookstores I had ever been in were sort of -- um -- alike (except for one, in Minneapolis, called St. Martin's Table.  Good food and a wonderful selection of books.  Unfortunately, St. Martin's Table closed last year.) 

I couldn't help noticing (and still can help noticing) that, for example, the Christian bookstore I most enjoy right now is located in our local Lutheran seminary, where almost none of the people in my congregation would ever go, and the local evangelical (southern Baptist, actually, though they don't tell you) bookstore is about six blocks away from where I live.  There are wonderful resources that I want the people in my congregation to know about, but some of them they can't find in any bookstore.   Because the bookstore six blocks away won't carry these wonderful resources (not all of them Lutheran, by the way).  I will also say that the fact that my favorite bookstore is located in a seminary might give you the impression that these are, for the most part, books for scholars, and not for lay people, and in that, you would not be totally mistaken. 

I'm pretty convinced that I won't be starting that "alternative Christian bookstore", but I would love to figure out a way to get more visibility for resources that are accessible, theologically sound, compelling and well-written.  Could churches host little satellite bookstores, or perhaps have suggested resources and links on their websites?  

What do you think? 


Fran said...

I like the idea about the website links... I have to give this more thought overall, but I like what you have to say.

Diane said...

Fran, I wrote this but it just scratches the surface of what I want to say. I feel like "we" l(and I mean mainline protestant but I think also Catholic bookstores) have a marketing problem. But it's much deeper. Why can't we have a (for example) Lutheran version of Beth Moore or Rick Warren? If we really believed in the priesthood of all believers we would really be writing for that market; I think we skew too hard to the scholarly market.

Now I think good scholarly writing is necessary, but it does give the impression that we are kind of 'spiritual elitists.' and no, I don't think we have to exactly dumb things down, but consider more the language we use etc.

Di said...

You would LOVE this place :

You know, for the next time you're out this way. ;)

Diane said...

oh! Diana! I just spent waaay too much time on their website.

I love that they review book covers!

We have a wonderful book and resource writer (David Lose) and our denominational bookstore puts the most boring book covers on his stuff. don't understand it.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Could churches have better ways of promoting the on-line presence of the Sem's book store?

Have you ever asked the local Christian book store about the books you think that they won't carry? I wonder what would happen if lots of people went in and asked for certain books.

Your comment about Lutherans not being out there enough with books/authors also reminds me of the lack of TV and radio presence for Lutherans. I catch some of the "Christian" radio station stuff when I'm with my sister and mostly I hear pop-psychology wrapped in a Bible cover. Some good stuff too, but very slanted.

Lindy said...

Rick Warren and Beth Moore are not what I want, and it's not just their wonky and incoherent theology. I don't want a superstar to tell me about Jesus, I want to hear from someone who actually knows him. Those people are not going to put up with any mega/super/popularitiness. It'll just never happen. The faith is passed from humble teachers to humble students. You don't find a lot of either on TV.

I do wish more and better resources were available on the www and that they weren't so expensive. At least once a week I read an abstract or summary for which I'd like to read the whole article and there's an outrageous (for me) subscription to get it. If I were a pro, maybe I'd pony up for it, but I can't justify that kind of dough just to indulge my curiosity.

What is out there for the general public is sometimes really trashy theology and that kind of makes me mad.