April 19, 2006
Like, Totally Wise
I enjoy editing first-time authors. They're learning as they go, processing each experience as they put it to paper, keeping their research one step ahead of their writing. It's like switching channels between 24 and The Real World: real life in real time.
This year I'm finding two first-time authors particularly enjoyable. They're reveling in the process, spending their meager advance money, shuddering under the weight of unexpected critiques, bucking up in the wake of unanticipated praise, breathing quickly in and out as they see their cover art for the first time. First-timers are pregnant with their books, and though the conception is rarely immaculate, the labor is always exhilarating.
Each of these two authors, entirely independent of one another, has disclosed an endearingly embarrassing personal story--one about yodeling, the other about hula dancing. Now, just typing these phrases makes me chuckle a bit, but just reading these stories warms me all the more to their subjects.
Self-disclosure is, sadly, a forgotten craft in some publishing, particularly religious publishing. Behold The Age of the Author as Expert, in which authors are, unsurprisingly, experts--flawless, unmoved movers and shakers. Such enlightened cultural gurus can't show signs of weakness, for who would follow a flawed prophet? Personal anecdotes are few and far between in such writings, and where gurus do deign to share of themselves, usually the point of their story is made manifest by their own personal brilliance.
In contrast, perhaps, is the scandal of the evangelical memoir, in which authors still set themselves up as experts, but this time in sin or suffering or both. Tales of woe are told with an eye toward redemption, although the redemption is often a bit too long in coming. You set aside hope when you enter into some such books, and by the time you're finished, it's entirely possible that you'll have forgotten where you set it.
Me, I'm drawn to the middle, where people stumble across the meaning that God has set for their experience, where people learn on their feet and share with the class. When you're trying to keep up with God in a rapidly unfolding life, you'll sometimes do or say things you regret, even things you are ashamed of. Sort of like Paul, the self-proclaimed chief of sinners:
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. . . . I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
"All of us who are mature should take such a view of things." It doesn't take maturity to hide or broadcast your flaws. It does, however, take maturity to be able to laugh at yourself and then move on--like Paul, like my friends the first-time authors. It's not surprising to me that one of the great works of theology in the history of the church is titled Confessions: it's only a mature Augustine who could find profundity in the midst of his own absurdity.
IVP Books has recently introduced Likewise, a line of books by people in process. My two first-time friends are two of our first Likewise authors, which is appropriate. Likewise books will deal with issues, exploring such subjects as global poverty and the church's response, but they'll also deal with the complexity of faithful living. So among our Likewise books you'll find a prolonged e-mail correspondence between a Christian English professor and an atheist punk rock hero, and a young woman's tentative entrance into the world of monastic spirituality. Likewise authors, like Likewise books, are an eclectic mix. What links them together is the spirit in which they've written--a spirit of humility, a spirit of truth.
Even the logo of the line is endearingly embarrassing. Check it out at Loud Time (where I actually know how to post something), and feel free to post your jokes here.