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Books Change Things

April 25, 2012

Something we’re trying to do here at the store is offer a huge selection of books. Our inventory is constantly getting wider and more diverse. You can order just about anything in print from us and we’ll get it for you if we don’t have it on our shelves. What that means, however, is that the selection and curation of our stock happens in our heads and on this blog. In other words–I know this is a shock–some books are better and more worth your time than others.

As much as we’d like to believe that everything that comes from a Christian publishing house is worth its weight in gold, these days, that’s just not true. Christian publishing is a huge industry, and with something like 1 million books published each year (source), it’s a challenge to sort out the sheep from the goats. We’d love our store to be a place where readers engage with a text, not just glibly consume everything an author (or a musician, or an artist) has to say. We want you to sit down, crack the book open, and examine the author’s thesis. And then we hope that you use truth, which is founded in Scripture, to act as your hermeneutical guide in reading.

So as a Christian bookstore, we do believe that there is one Book that you can trust- one collection of words that will not fail in what it sets out to do, and that’s the Word. If you’re in a place where you’re having a hard time seeing the Bible as being freighted with that kind of reliability, we have some really good resources that might help build your confidence in the Canon. I’m going to go ahead and throw just one out there: Words of Life by Timothy Ward (IVP Academic, 2009) (Feel free to blow up the comments section with other suggestions). We actually have a sizable Bible Reference section, and if you can wrangle Peter away from helping someone else, he’ll spend time with you in deciding which resource best suits your needs. Cast your anxieties upon him and he will give you rest (just kidding, just kidding, but only a little).

Why do we need to be cautious in our reading? These days, we should be happy if folks are reading anything at all right? Well, maybe. But the point is, books change things. They are hugely formative in how we frame what we think about the world. If we didn’t believe that, we really wouldn’t be here.

I’ll give you a real-life, up-to-the-minute example. Yesterday, on my way home from work, I was talking with my husband on the phone. We chatted about this and that, and during a lull in the conversation, I confessed: “So I signed a petition today.”

“You did?” he asked, “And what are you petitioning?”

I went on to explain that earlier that morning, as I perused our shelves in search of the perfect inspirational title to share at staff morning devotions, I came across Wendell Berry’s New Collected Poems (Counterpoint, 2012). (The collection is new, not really the poems). If you know Berry, you know that his poetry doesn’t mince words and he uses a lot of them to critique current agricultural trends in America. As I read, I knew that these lines were going to rattle around in my brain for the rest of the day (a stanza from his poem Questionnaire):

1. How much poison are you willing

to eat for the success of the free

market and global trade? Please

name your preferred poisons.

(No, I didn’t end up sharing this poem at morning devos, but the words haunted me nonetheless. If you know Berry, you probably have a hard time listing anyone more authentically consistent in living out what he actually believes. And yes, it’s always ironic to blog about someone like Wendell Berry, because he shuns the internet pretty strongly, but I digress…). I shelved the book and went about my business.

Later in the afternoon, I got a notification that my aunt had posted a link on her Facebook wall (again, Berry would have an earful to say about Facebook, I’m sure), sharing that she had recently signed a petition encouraging congress to write the Farm Bill in favor of small farmers, organic farming, and environmentally sustainable agriculture. Berry’s words still ringing in my ears, I signed right up.*

I really probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t sifted through New Collected Poems that morning. But a small part of me wondered if my happening across that title in our shelves wasn’t pure accident. Maybe there was a some activity of the Holy Spirit guiding me to it, and then placing across my path the opportunity to share with Peter Roskam something that I do believe to be true: that small business and small farmers need to be prioritized in our economy and country.

Either way, I think it’s a great example of a book having a direct influence in a person making a decision for change. Books-even (or maybe especially!) poetry-can change the way we interact with the world in a seriously influential way. Because this is true, they can sometimes be a little bit dangerous. As Christians, however, who believe that there isn’t a square inch of creation in which God does not have ownership, we are equipped to engage with the world of books with confidence and without fear. As we pick up a text and engage with it, we have multiple resources to process what it’s saying.

As our inventory continues to diversify you might see some surprising texts on our shelves. We hope you come and play with us-probing and questioning, affirming and critiquing. Meanwhile, we’ll do our best to point out some gems and share some truly transformative titles. We’re excited to provide them, and hope you enjoy what you find.


*In case it needs to be said, any opinions or actions expressed in this blog are purely my own, and don’t necessarily express the opinions of the rest of the folks associated with Johnsen & Taylor.

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