IVP - Strangely Dim - Stuff About Books Archives

October 15, 2012

Acid Free Forever?!? In Search of a Book Lover's Rallying Cry

A rant and broad appeal by David A. Zimmerman

How is it, twenty-some years now since the rise of digital music, that you can say "Viva Vinyl!" to a teenager and they'll know what you're talking about? Sure, you can show a kid a picture of a record or a record player, of an LP or a 45, and they'll stare blankly at you, but shout "Viva!" and wait for them to fill in the blank, and dollars to donuts they won't shout back "la Revoluçion!" They'll shout "Vinyl!" in a defiant and self-congratulatory tone. You might even get a fist bump out of them.


For whatever reason, musical purists have been able to keep the dream of analog musical recordings alive long past their supposed time of death. Maybe some cabal of music snobs got their heads together early enough; maybe they played so many records backwards in search of satanic messages from their favorite rock bands that the march of progress through time ceased to have any power over them. Maybe there was enough fear of the rise of the machines, enough rage against said machines, in the zeitgeist that they were able to drop a needle on this anachronistic technology and keep it spinning. However it happened, you can still find LP records, still find 33-1/3 record players, still find people of all ages who prefer their music delivered via petroleum byproduct rather than bits and bytes. 

High time you took a lesson from this, all you literary purists out there. Enough waxing eloquent about the smell of books, the feel of bound pages, the utility of dog earing and whatnot. The early adopters of ebooks are far too busy and distracted by their tweets and pinterests to listen to you go on and on about it. You don't need odes and jeremiads; you need a rallying cry.

Trouble is, books don't lend themselves to rallying cries. "Acid Free Forever!" for example. What does it mean? It's an allusion to the industry standard that all books be printed using paper with a pH value of seven or greater, which extends the life of each printed book and the machines that make them. Acid-free books don't yellow the way really old books do; their pages don't get brittle the way really old paper does. But ask the average person on the street what "acid free" means and they'll be highly unlikely to talk about book manufacturing. They'll probably talk about drug rehab.

So, I'm at a loss, book purists. But at least I'm trying. And now I'm providing a forum. Take your best shot:

What's your rallying cry to keep print books alive? 
Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:15 AM | Comments (4) are closed

September 24, 2012

Snubbed Again: Who Are You Reading?

By David A. Zimmerman

Last night was the Emmys, and this year might be thought of alternately as "The Year of Homeland and Modern Family" or, more cynically, "The Year of the Snub." Perennial favorites such as Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston and Parks & Recreation went home empty-handed in their respective categories. (Parks & Rec wasn't even nominated for best comedy, which may be part of a communist plot; no disrespect to Modern Family and the other nominees, but Give. Me. A. Break.)

Speaking of snubs, once again Strangely Dim (not to mention my personal blog, Loud Time) was left off the list of the "Top 200 Church Blogs." This annual list showcases "today's most influential church leaders, journalists, theologians, and Christ followers," based on traffic, page ranks, subscriptions and other indicators. The compilers of the list obviously didn't ask my mom which "church blogs" she reads religiously.

I'm not bitter, really I'm not. I do find myself wondering, though, what blogs didn't make the list that should. Ed Stetzer makes three quick observations about the list: (1) the dominance of Calvinist perspectives; (2) the decline of emergence perspectives; and (3) the absence of women's perspectives. I might dispute (2) a bit--I see a decent showing of people on the list who lean Emergent, especially given Stetzer's observation (1)--but the dominance of Calvinists and the dearth of women are hard to argue.

ct women to watch.jpg

Stetzer's observation about women bloggers comes almost simultaneously to Christianity Today's cover issue on "Women to Watch." Ironic, isn't it, that we are being advised to watch these women, but precious few of us are actually reading them.

Here at IVP we're doing our part to close the gap between watching and reading women. In the spring, we're launching a line of books that showcases women authors. More to come on that, believe me. But in the meantime, we're always on the lookout for interesting people with interesting perspectives, and while we want to elevate the voices of leading women, we are also happy to hear from men with something important to say. So here's your chance: Who are you reading, and why should we be reading them too?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 3:19 PM | Comments (1) are closed

September 21, 2012

Hug an Author Day: A Recap

By David A. Zimmerman

In retrospect, it was a pretty good idea. It probably could have been executed more strategically, yielding more book sales, elevating the profile of more authors, moving more product. But to do so would have made Hug an Author Day less an act of fondness and respect, and more an act of exploitation.


God knows authors don't need any more exploitation in their lives. What they need are hugs: concrete assertions that they exist and have value, that what they've invested so much of themselves in was worth doing and has had an impact. They need to be reminded that they are not merely the insights and assertions of their writing but real and whole human beings whose needs are legitimate claims on the rest of us. They need to be given permission to do the awkward self-promotion that their publisher and their own ego-needs are crying out for them to do, and they need to be reassured that they are not less loved or respected for having done so. They need a hug--or something very much like it--and they're not likely to get one unless there's time and space devoted to it.

Call me biased, since some of my best friends are authors, but I wish every day were Hug an Author Day. I'll settle for every September 15. I've marked my calendar; I hope you will too.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 11:24 AM

June 20, 2012

What I'm Editing: Pidgin Miracles

By David A. Zimmerman

When I'm bored in church, I often switch my Bible reader from displaying the New International Version (our pastor's Bible translation of choice) to Da Jesus Book, a Bible delivered in Hawaiian pidgin. Sometimes I tweet key verses because they strike me, and people poke fun at my tweets: "Who talks like that?" they share, sometimes in texting shorthand ("Who tks lk tht?").

Duh. Apparently Hawaiians do. What part of "Hawaiian pidgin" didn't you understand?

Pidgin languages are found all over the world, wherever the need of communication demands it. They are typically mashups of two distinct languages, combined to allow for rudimentary commerce: say, for example, when a Hawaiian native wants to trade goods with a European marauder. They need to understand each other to do business, so they work something out. Pidgin languages are mostly verbal/aural, though they eventually get written down because we can't help ourselves, plus we need to teach them to our young, plus we need to diversify our Bible portfolio.

Anyway, I like pidgin languages. I think they're interesting; they feel closer to the ground than the hifalutin language people so often resort to when they're writing books, which I spend my days reading and sometimes suffering through. For all their quirkiness, pidgin languages are almost by definition as plainspoken as people get.


I feel more justified in scratching this itch today as I make my final pass through a forthcoming book: The Gospel of Christmas, by Patty Kirk. Among the best-written books I've ever had occasion to edit, it is slated for release in September, in time for stores to become aware of it and stock/promote it for the Christmas season. It's strange to read about Christmas in June--even "Christmas in July" would make more sense--but such are the demands of the marketplace, which we editors dutifully accommodate.

Patty bypasses the glittery, tinselly cutesiness of Christmas in this book, opting instead to dive into the dirt that surrounds the modest accommodations of the newborn King that Christmas glories in. That means, among other things, taking a down-to-earth look at the manger scene. It helps that she's a farmer, as well as a professor of English; she can get you into the moment like nobody's business. To do so she quotes poets like Edmund Spenser: "Beginne from first, where he encradeled was / In simple cratch, wrapt in a wad of hay."

Poets get a bad reputation for being opaque and otherworldly, but read them and you see that they use words like wad and cratch, and you realize that it's we, not they, who have become addicted to abstraction.

Cratch, I learned from Patty, is a Middle English rendition of the French word crèche, which is where we lay baby Jesus in the manger scene on our piano or credenza or our front lawn. Cratch was the vernacular "back in the days when there were no spelling rules," Patty tells us. It appears in a slightly different spelling in the fourteenth-century Wycliffe translation of Luke 2:7:

And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wlappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir.

Slightly less than half the words of that verse are marked as misspellings by my word processor, but you can figure it out pretty well. If I had written this on my iPhone, on the other hand, it would have autocorrected into something inscrutable:

And sche bare hit first boring some, and wlappide gym in clothis, and leide gym in a cratche, for ther was no place to gym in no chaumbir.

Here's how Da Jesus Book puts it:

An she wen born her numba one boy, an wrap him up inside some cloths, an lay him down inside one ting fo hold da cows food, cuz no mo room fo dem inside da small hotel.

Two of these renditions of Luke 2:7 make sense; the dignified, digitized third, brought to you by my "smart phone," does not. Not only, then, is Luke 2:7 an indictment of autocorrect; it's also a demonstration of the inherent value of plain speech, which does not trouble itself with such abstractions as rules of spelling but focuses on getting the point across, making the connection, sealing the deal. There was a time when English itself was a pidgin language, connecting disparate people groups one to another, allowing for trade and cross-pollination and ultimately peace. There was a time as well when the Word was made flesh, the ultimate pidgin expression of a fundamental truth of the universe: that God so loves the world that he gave his only son.

On the day of his dedication at the temple, two pigeons were offered up, which we've since remembered as the cleaner, more abstract "two turtle doves" and so, to a degree, stripped the Son of God of a little bit of his down-to-earthy humanity. But that's OK; Jesus has been stripped and worse by the arbiters of appropriateness before, and while it was degrading and scandalous and part of our history that we grieve, it was forgiven and ultimately redeemed at the cross and the resurrection. He still bears the scars, because he's fully human, but he's also fully divine, so that by those scars we are healed.

Keep an eye out for Patty's Gospel of Christmas; it's a soulful book that will get you right and ready to recall that pidgin miracle when God became man, when Word became flesh, when our earth became the cratche that held the Son of God.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 1:01 PM

March 27, 2012

Our Own

A few months ago my husband, Eric, and I were standing in line at a new restaurant across the street from the IVP offices (a favorite lunch spot for many of my colleagues, in case you're ever looking to accost an editor or pilfer social media tips from a marketer extraordinaire). Without taking my eyes from the menu board, I leaned into his shoulder. "What sounds good to you?" I asked. "Wanna split a pizza?"

It was a ridiculous suggestion. In fifteen years of marriage, we'd negotiated some pretty rough waters, but never once had we agreed on the toppings that would adorn a communal pizza. So when he stepped out of line toward the restroom and casually tossed "Order whatever you want" over his shoulder, I was momentarily paralyzed. Then elated. Spinach and mushroom with goat cheese. Mmmmm.

But then I thought of Mother Teresa and the quote that had been worming its way through my brain for the last several months.

I hadn't fully read Margot Starbuck's third release, Small Things with Great Love, but the title (which stems from Mother Teresa's famous words, "We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love") had infiltrated much of my day. The idea of counting small things as valuable in the midst of a hectic life season was deliciously appealing. Maybe I couldn't volunteer in the mentoring program in downtown Chicago like I wanted to or jet off to teach leadership development in Rwanda with my church, but loving people in small ways? Now that I could handle.

Small things, I thought.

But it's just a pizza.

With great love,it echoed. Seriously Suanne, it's just a pizza.

Dangnabbit. Before I could change my mind, I stepped to the counter and, in one dying-to-self breath, I ordered the barbeque chicken pizza smothered with caramelized onions, to the shock and delight of my husband when he came back to our booth.

I almost broke my arm patting myself on the back. For weeks. Then one afternoon I was sitting in my office, cozied up with Margot's book, and I blushed at how drastically I missed the point.

In chapter four (titled "Our Own"), Margot shares her own passionate amore for her husband and kids, but then she adds what should be obvious: "Sacrificing for my own isn't really so noble. . . . I'm not knocking it," she says, "I just don't think it's the end of the story."

Hmph. I guess my pizza thing wasn't such a big deal after all.

Margot continues:


"It ain't so hard at all to sacrifice for these, our own. The real kicker is that when we are entirely identified with the triune God, the ones who are God's own become our own. The orphan, wherever he is found, becomes our own in exactly the same way that he is God's own. The widow, the one who's been left alone, becomes our own just the way that she is God's own. The hungry neighbor, across town and across the globe, becomes our own in the same way that he or she is God's own. The sick, the ones who suffer, become our own in the same way that they are God's own. The prisoner, the one who has been forgotten, becomes our own in exactly the same manner that he is God's own."

Reading Margot's words left me with the same prickly conviction I feel anytime I read Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount: "If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even the pagans do that." What I love about Small Things with Great Love is that Margot challenges our complacency at the same time she extends us grace. She recognizes the unique and varying stages of life we find ourselves in and encourages us to love our neighbors from wherever we are. In a world that's obsessed with the big and the grand, Margot, like Mother Teresa, encourages us to do the small things that display God's extravagant love to those we encounter (or maybe need to encounter) every day.

But not just to the ones we naturally consider our own -- and this really is the point-- the ones we uncomfortably consider as well. The ones that Jesus moved towards and lived among and feasted amidst and healed from within -- the poor, the prisoner and the brokenhearted. The ones, as Margot points out, that dwelled in the center of his Father's heart. "In this," says Margot, "his Father's own became his own."

May it be true of us as well.

Continue reading "Our Own"
Posted by Suanne Camfield at 12:47 PM | Comments (1) are closed

January 31, 2012

A Favorite from 2011 and a Challenge for 2012

It's no secret that we at IVP are Margot Starbuck fans. And really, what's not to like? She's funny, she likes to paint polka dots on the rims of her glasses, and she's serious about justice--all reasons why her newest book, Small Things with Great Love, is one of my favorite IVP books of 2011. To be perfectly honest, though, she's not the only reason I'm a fan of her latest book; I also love it because she wrote it for me. Not me personally, but me in my working, introverted, single, suburban life (jealous?).

Truth be told, for several years now I've wanted to be involved in some type of justice work--work that says to the most abused and abandoned: You are a precious child of God, worth fighting for with all the resources we've got, until justice is won. I've done the small, seemingly easy things like giving money to organizations working for justice and doing some reading to become more informed about particular issues. My work at IVP on books like Welcoming Justice, Just Courage, Daughters of Hope and Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle has also kept me connected to the pulse of justice work. But often, as I sit in my safe little cubicle, I wonder if the small things (read: anything less than quitting my job, getting a more "useful" degree like law, medicine or social work, and living among the poor) really matter in the incredibly huge pool of justice work that needs to be done.

In Small Things with Great Love, Margot emphatically says yes, the attempts we make at loving others that seem so small to us do in fact make a difference in the world. She writes:

Is God scowling in judgment because we're changing the batteries in our smoke detectors instead of going door to door collecting eyeglasses to send to Haiti? Is God looking down from heaven feeling sort of resentful that we're using the "look inside" function on Amazon.com instead of visiting prisoners? . . . I simply don't think [that's] the case. Here's why: God's love for you and God's love for the world in need cannot be separated. God's longing to see you liberated for life that really is life can't be neatly pulled apart from God's longing to see the poor liberated for life that really is life. . . . Can you see what great news it is that this serendipitous double liberation isn't something extra we do? . . . . The regular stuff of our lives--the commute to work and the potlucks and home improvement projects and errands and play dates--are the exact places in which we express and experience God's love for a world in need.

Yes, Margot, I can see what great news that is! But it's not just great news for little ol' proofreading, copyediting, cubicle-dwelling me. The truth is that she also wrote this book for you, sweet wanting-to-make-a-difference-in-the-world-by-loving-others-with-the-love-of-Christ Strangely Dim reader. Yes, you. Whether you're married or not; male or female; young or old; or living in the city, the suburbs or the nice, quiet, beautiful countryside waking up to the sounds of cows mooing, there's a chapter specifically for your age and stage of life that's chock-full of small ways you can engage the world around you with real love. "Small things happen when I learn the name of my daughter's school bus driver," Margot writes. "Small things happen when I listen to the dreams of a woman who lives in a group home on my block. Small things happen when I risk crossing a language barrier even though I look really stupid doing it." Her life and her observations of the lives of others have led her to this simple conclusion: "Embracing the adventure of loving a world in need is--at its best--about giving Jesus, in us, access, through us, to the ones already around us he already loves."

Feeling inspired? And maybe even free to stay in your current non-slum work/home situation without guilt, trusting that God can use you in the places he's called you to? Us too. For the month of February, Dave, Suanne, Rebecca and I will be blogging about our attempts to do small things with great love as we walk through our ordinary, pay-the-bills, change diapers, go-grocery-shopping days. And we would love to have you join us in learning to love the people around you--family and strangers, friends and enemies, neighbors and garbage collectors--more intentionally. Then leave us a comment telling us your story so that we can celebrate together God's work in us, through us, around us.

Before we start our adventure together, though, let me offer one word of caution for you and for us here: Doing small things with great love, however more feasible and less overwhelming it might feel than having to single-handedly wipe out AIDS/HIV in Africa, is not easy. It takes intention. It might, for example, involve some sacrifice and hard choices, such as creating a bit more margin in your life so that you have space to listen to and watch for the opportunities God brings your way. It also takes faith--faith to trust that the One who made us with certain gifts and called us to the particular place we are will use us there to love the others he loves. And faith to trust that the One who did miracles with small things like a few fish and a bit of bread or an almost-empty flour pot in a time of drought can still do big things through our small offerings--even an offering of faith as small as a mustard seed.


Posted by Lisa Rieck at 9:25 AM

January 26, 2012

(Slightly) More Objective Votes for 2011 Favorites

Well, we hate to brag. But we're going to anyway, of course.

relevant screen shot.jpgMark Scandrette's new book, Practicing the Way of Jesus, was not just a favorite here at IVP. It made RELEVANT magazine's "Top Ten Books of 2011" list and was described by reviewer John Pattison (who is, truth be told, coauthor of the IVP book Besides the Bible, which we recently acquired from Biblica, and coauthor of the forthcoming IVP book Slow Church) as "inspiring and eminently useful." What more could you want in a book?

We also made well-known bookstore owner Byron Borger's lists (part one and part two) of his favorite books of the year. Several times, in fact. Here's what he says about just a few:

For the ever-popular Practicing the Way of Jesus: "It covers so many topics and, without being pushy, it does offer very good guidance on how to initiate and move towards greater faithfulness in daily living in the ways of Christ."

For The Story of God, the Story of Us (he starts to gush a little with this one): "Oh my, how I resonated with this, how I loved his creative retelling of the stories of Israel and church [and] how he offered this edgy, energetic vision of how getting lost in this story is the way to life." He also wants to nominate author Sean Gladding for an Oscar ("Gladding should get an award for best screen play").

For Jamie Arpin-Ricci's The Cost of Community: "There are lots of good stories of [Arpin-Ricci and his community's] journey (and the dramatic stuff that happens in urban ministry) and there are upbeat examples of great joy in the journey. But, too, this is serious stuff, inviting us--challenging us--to take Christ seriously, as Francis did. . . . Three cheers."

For The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry by Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean (one of my favorites of the year as well): "If the thesis of Christian Smith's important work (Soul Searching, upon which Dean built her famous book Almost Christian) is true--namely that churches are not doing a very good job helping youth name their spiritual yearnings or giving them categories to think theologically about life and discipleship--then this is a rich and vital answer, to that strong critique of our thin approaches. . . . I'm telling you, this is one of the best books of the year. If you are not in youth ministry, buy it for somebody who is."

And then, for Small Things with Great Love by Margot Starbuck (another favorite of mine; check back soon for much more to come on this book at Strangely Dim): "It pushes us, calls us, invites us, teaches us, shows us, how to reach out to others, how to see the alienation and poverty and sadness around us and to take up the vocation of being Christ's hands and feet in this world of need. There is literally something for everyone."

Byron also highlights several Formatio and IVP Academic books. (And no, he reallyborger and donkey.JPG is not a paid employee of IVP.)

So if you need something intellectually stimulating, spiritually challenging and potentially life-transforming to do to pass the time until the best-of-2011 movies are announced on Oscar night, pick up one or two IVP favorites from 2011 and let us know what you think. (On the other hand, if you don't want to be spiritually or intellectually challenged or to change anyone's life--yours or others'--feel free to keep playing video games and watching The Bachelor while your brain cells die off, one by one, and your perception of reality gets more and more twisted. Just don't ever say we never did anything to help you . . .)

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 5:39 PM

September 30, 2011

Sex Trafficking at the 7-Eleven

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine wrote a novel about sex trafficking that was set in the southern United States. I remember reading the rough draft and struggling to digest the idea of sexual slavery in America. In fact, I thought it might be a bit of a stretch.

Global sex trafficking . . . now that's a more likely story. Villages with dirt roads, one-room shanties with tin roofs, girls who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS, corrupted government officials with black-stained teeth who slip foreign money between the robes of their donkeys--seemingly more compatible images with terms as atrocious as "human trafficking" and "modern-day slavery."

It's funny how comfortably we think of America as a "global super power" yet how troublesome it is to think of it as a "participant in global sex trafficking." But there's no getting around it.

Between 2001 and 2005 there were an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 sex slaves in the United States (according to the Department of Justice)--a significant percentage of the nearly two million children exploited in the global commercial sex trade each year (UNICEF).

Sadly, the global sex trade, a 32 billion dollar a year industry, is thriving in the same country that officially ended slavery almost 150 years ago. In a Huffington Post article, Dan Rather diagnosed this pervasive inability to imagine sexual slavery in the United States with one word: denial.

It's a hard concept to get our minds wrapped around.

Last week I was at the Religious Newswriters' Association conference--a gathering of journalists who were some of the most culturally aware folks I'd ever been around--when a gentleman from a national research firm asked me what I was working on. I gave him my elevator pitch for our recently released book God in a Brothel by Daniel Walker: "It's the story of an undercover investigator who spent four years rescuing victims of sex trafficking all over the world," I said. Then I added, "including within the United States."

god in a brothel.jpg

"Huh. In the United States?" he said, nodding. Then, after a slightly awkward pause. "Really? The U.S.? Is that right? Huh."

And so I told him about the image I can't get out of my head, the one from the book where Daniel poses as an interested customer, gets picked up by a Lexus-driving pimp at a 7-Eleven and is escorted only a few blocks to a modern single-story home where he purchases a young Asian girl. I told him I think about it every time I pass my local 7-Eleven, the one that sits just a few blocks from my house, where hundreds of meaningless and impulsive transactions take place every day.

Then I told him about the recent Chicago Sun Times article following an eighteen-month investigation that led to a major bust right here in Chicago. The girls who were rescued weren't from Central America or Southeast Asia; they were from Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, in some cases trafficked from the city bus stop or their local grocery store.

Even with organizations like International Justice Mission and The Polaris Project increasing their platforms, with campaigns like End Slavery Now and Stop Human Trafficking gaining momentum, with stories of arrests and rescues in major cities splashed across the news, and, yes, even with celebrities like Demi and Ashton getting involved, conversations like the one above and the ones inside my own head, remind me that we still have a long way to go. Fortunately, one of the privileges of working in publishing is that we get to nudge people just a little further down the road.

This fall (October 20-November 10) Daniel Walker will be traveling to the United States from New Zealand where he serves on the local police force. He'll be speaking at churches and college campuses from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., in partnership with Compassion International and Hagar International to raise awareness about the global sex trade.

If you're close, stop by. If not, share this post. Or pick up a copy of the book and continue to learn. And when you tell your friend or your colleague or your pastor or your aunt what you're reading and they say, "Sex trafficking? In this country? Really?" Tell them that America is as global as they come.

Posted by Suanne Camfield at 8:43 AM | Comments (3) are closed

February 11, 2011

You Will Know Us by the Trail of Editors

A friend of mine read an article in USA Today about self-publishing, and because he's worried about me (since conventional publishing, as we all know, is on its deathbed), he asked me if there's an untapped market for freelance editors. Here's my response:

There's certainly a need for editors; whether there's a perceived need among self-publishing authors (it's more painfully obvious to the readers of self-publishing) is a separate question.

An enterprising freelance editor could, I suppose, pitch "second editions" to already self-published authors. The trick is justifying their fee, which would likely have to come with some guarantee of improved sales, which likely means the editor would have to function more as agent than as mere editor, and would need to take on some marketing/publicity efforts as well. I've been trying to do that for my friend Tony (in addition to my doing a quick edit of his book, see my interview with him here and my review of his book here), but it's a lot easier to to do that for free than to get paid for it, particularly if an author has already accomplished their major goal: getting published. Sometimes the money is not the main motivator.

I actually think self-publishing is the way to go for a lot of people. A conventional publisher necessarily filters the types of books (and authors) for its existing audience and along the lines of its existing channels. Anything that goes off the grid of traditional publishing, to any extent whatsoever, increases the risk considerably to the publisher, which has its own context into which it comfortably publishes, its own bills to pay, its own sanity to protect. An author with direct access to a ready audience that's not easily accessible to a conventional publisher isn't just afforded a second-best option in self-publishing; in some cases the author is actually better off.

Nevertheless, by self-publishing an author is in fact going off grid, with all the challenges and limitations that going off grid entails. Some self-published books do break through to become blockbusters, but they are still wild exceptions, and their exceptionalism likely indicates that there's more to the story than comes across in how the story is reported. It's not simply this woman's "aggressive self-promotion" that led to her success, but also who she aggressively promoted herself to, who else aggressively promoted her, and who was willing to be aggressively promoted to by someone out of left field. It's not exactly alchemy, although it resembles alchemy; it's just the logic that applies to all effective networking.

 It's worth noting, incidentally, that the vast majority of the "20 million people" who "read e-books last year" weren't reading self-published books but rather bestsellers they could get on Kindle for $10 instead of $22. The article sort of obscures that notion, and Amazon's VP of Kindle Content certainly (and fairly, I suppose) capitalizes on the mythology that any one person is just one lucky break away from being the next great American novelist. (That mythology is part of the alchemy of the "culture of narcissism" I write about in Deliver Us from Me-Ville, what inspires the odd auditions on American Idol, among other things.)

For the record, I do sometimes recommend self-publishing to prospective authors, not as a critique of their ideas or their writing but because for them it's a more viable path than conventional publishing. It's roughly equivalent to my directing an author to a different conventional publisher whose program fits the author better than ours. Sometimes, of course, it's because the writing and ideas aren't particularly good, and the person is merely infatuated with the idea of publishing. I had an unusual experience recently where I was the only editor at a gathering of writers, and one of them very intentionally pursued self-publishing rather than the possibility of publishing with a publisher like us. You can read a bit of his rationale here. Good on Jimmy for having a plan and sticking to it.

Feel free to push back on my characterization of conventional and/or self-publishing, my interpretation of the article and its profiled author's experience, or whatever. The self-published, the conventionally published and the blogging editor have this in common: we love to have people interact with what we've written.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:46 AM

February 3, 2011

A Blizzard of Good Books

I don't know about you all, but having now dug my way out of a blizzard that terrorized as much as a third of the United States, all I really want to do is dig my way back in. Jars of Clay has an adorable little song called "Hibernation Day" that captures some of my well-chilled emotions:

I don't want to get out of bed
You don't want to go out in the snow
(It's so cold outside)
Let's have a hibernation day

What do you do when you're holed up in your home, riding out an abominable snowstorm? Well, you can certainly use your imagination, but one thing I highly recommend, as an employee of a book publisher, is that you read lots and lots of books.

What to read, you ask? You could do a lot worse than just working your way down a list of the "best of 2010" provided by bookstore owner par excellence Byron Borger. His Pennsylvania bookstore Hearts & Minds is a leader among independent booksellers and has everything thoughtful readers of Christian literature could wish for--and he's helpfully free and open with his opinions.

Byron's list from 2010 features books that many of us here have been ogling, some of which we occasionally smack our foreheads and lament "Why didn't we publish that?!?" Two that I've had my eye on are Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer biography and James Davison Hunter's To Change the World. My big boss Andy Le Peau blogged his way through that book; read those posts starting here.

Byron has been a great supporter of InterVarsity Press over the years. The fruits of our efforts here show up nicely on his list, including a revised edition of one of my wife's favorite books, Richard Mouw's Uncommon Decency; Friendship at the Margins by Chris Heuertz and Christine Pohl (part of our collaboration with the Duke Center for Reconciliation); The Art of Dying by Rob Moll; Mark Labberton's The Dangerous Act of Loving Your Neighbor; James Bryan Smith's third volume in his Apprentice Series trilogy, The Good and Beautiful Community; the Veritas Forum collection A Place for Truth; Mack Stiles's passionate Marks of the Messenger; and Wayne Rice's memoir/manifesto Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again).

Whenever I'm feeling anxious or road-weary in developing our Likewise line, I dig up little comments Byron has made in various reviews he's written of Likewise books. This year's best-of list is no exception; consider this little snippet filed away: "Kudos to the 'Likewise' imprint for their consistently innovative, contemporary, and faithful books." Here's Byron on Likewise books released in 2010:

Living Mission: "Powerful, inspiring, challenging, and very important. What a strong bit of hefty wisdom! What an indication of the emerging tone in missiology. Spectacular."

Unsqueezed: "The kind of 'Christian self-help book' that redeems the phrase, and is a standard for the sorts of contemporary, practical, insightful books that we need to see on the market."

The Story of God, the Story of Us: "It is hard not to applaud too loudly for this one-of-a kind book. . . . Nothing like it that we know of; highly recommended, happily honored." 

The Gospel of John (Resonate): "Any gospel commentary that takes a song from Rattle & Hum--a duet between Bono and B.B. King--has got to be great! Resonate. Indeed. It deserves a special commendation of one of the best ideas in the Christian publishing world of 2010."

Wisdom Chaser: "A book I couldn't stop talking about for weeks."

I'll toot my own horn just a bit and admit that I contributed to one book in Byron's list, Besides the Bible: 100 Books That Have, Should, or Will Create a Christian Culture. Byron contributed as well, so there's pimping all around, I guess; unless Byron struck a deal I didn't, neither of us is making any money off it. Anyway, the book is what the title suggests: one hundred books that are worth knowing, reading and responding to. IVP showed well in that list as well (I blogged about that here), but in his review Byron takes the opportunity to make a brief case for reading as an act of faith, which is itself worth quoting here:

Christ calls us disciples, you know, which means learner. You wouldn't be reading this (and I surely wouldn't be writing it) if we didn't believe that reading widely is an act of spiritual formation, and that learning what to read is a key skill for maturing faith. . . . We need to honor God with our minds, we need to be fluent in the culture around us, and we can celebrate the good role of the best books in our culture, glad for the common grace of good words and good ideas and good art in the finest literature.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:36 AM

November 15, 2010

Editing as Community Organizing

My job puts me in touch with a lot of crazy people--crazy enough to try to change entrenched patterns of behavior and societal standards. Likewise publishes a lot of activists; in fact some of the most notable books in our history have been the sustained reflections of people who spend most of their days pushing hard for more justice, more mercy, more shalom in their given contexts. I get a little envious sometimes, I can admit: while they're saving people, I'm condemning commas.

When I'm feeling particularly inadequate--usually after a phone conversation with one of these people (I should add that not once has one of my authors told me anything like "Why don't you get off your butt and do something significant for a change?"--even the ones who are well aware of the enormous amounts of free time I spend on my butt doing something insignificant)--I try to console myself by imagining the role of publishing in the greater effort of what I suppose we could call "cultural discipleship": how does what I do join with what they do to better represent the kingdom of God throughout the earth?

Or something like that. It's a self-serving exercise, to be sure, but I think generally it's helpful to me and to our authors; and really, what's wrong with imagining yourself in the kingdom of God?

The bible of most activists at a grass-roots level (apart from the actual Bible, for the folks I work with) is Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, published in 1971 as an attempt to channel the chaotic rage of 1960s revolutionaries into more effective, sustainable social change. In this book Alinsky lays out some of the essential qualities of a community organizer, the things he needs to see in a person before he will trust them with the real needs of a community. You can train on tactics, but these are temperamental values that can only be acknowledged and encouraged. I'd say we look for them in authors too, as well as in publishing professionals such as myself. Ahem.

  • Curiosity. "Life is for him [always "him"; the 1970s were still a wee bit unenlightened] a search for a pattern, for similarities in seeming differences, for differences in seeming similarities, for an order in the chaos about us, for a meaning to the life around him and its relationship to his own life--and the search never ends."
  • Irreverence. "He . . . rebels against any repression of a free, open search for ideas no matter where they may lead. He is challenging, insulting, agitating, discrediting. He stirs unrest. As with all life, this is a paradox, for his irreverence is rooted in a deep reverence for the enigma of life."
  • Imagination. "There was a time when I believed that the basic quality that an organizer needed was a deep sense of anger against injustice. . . . I now know that it is something else: this abnormal imagination that sweeps him into a close identification with mankind and projects him into its plight."
  • A sense of humor. "Knowing that contradictions are the signposts of progress he is ever on the alert for contradictions. A sense of humor helps him identify and make sense out of them. . . . The organizer has a personal identity of his own that cannot be lost by absorption or acceptance of any kind of group discipline or organization. I now begin to understand what I stated somewhat intuitively in Reveille for Radicals almost twenty years ago, that 'the organizer in order to be part of all can be part of none.'"
  • A bit of a blurred vision of a better world. "Sooner or later he will react with 'What am I doing? . . . I quit.' What keeps him going is a blurred vision of a great mural where other artists--organizers--are painting their bits, and each piece is essential to the whole."
  • An organized personality. "It is vital that he be able to accept and work with irrationalities for the purpose of change. . . . He should be able, with skill and calculation, to use irrationality to progress toward a rational world. . . . He is always learning, and every incident teaches him something."
  • A well-integrated political schizoid. "Men will act when they are convinced that their cause is 100 per cent on the side of the angels and that the opposition are 100 per cent on the side of the devil . . . and yet both parts have to live comfortably with each other. Only a well-organized person can split and yet stay together."
  • Ego--"clearly differentiated from egotism." "Ego is unreserved confidence in one's ability to do what he believes must be done. . . . The thought of copping out never stays with him for more than a fleeting moment; life is action."
  • A free and open mind, and political relativity. "Because of these qualities he is unlikely to disintegrate into cynicism and disillusionment, for he does not depend on illusion. . . . He conceives of creation as the very essence of the meaning of life. . . . The organizer finds his goal in the creation of power for others to use."

That strikes me as a pretty good description of a good book: "power for others to use." A book--particularly the type of book we publish--is an author's proxy, a way for the author's insights to be present when the author herself (see what I did there?) can't be present. It's a distillation of a person's embodied ideas and ideals, to be considered and adapted for another context. Maybe it's my ego talking, but that makes publishing a creative process--which makes me, as a publishing professional, a creative person.

Ahem. How you like me now, activists?

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:10 AM | Comments (2) are closed

July 22, 2010

Self-Image and the Shoes of Death: On Unsqueezed

I love shoes. Tall shoes, especially. But I've always felt that in the area of shopping and fashion I was a pretty late bloomer; and having always been rather tall, wearing shoes that drew attention to this uncomfortable fact made me . . . uncomfortable. So I was in my twenties before I got over my height issues and started wearing more than a one-inch heel. It may seem trivial, but it was significant for me to realize that being tall is, really, just fine.

 So now every time I see the cover of Margot Starbuck's Unsqueezed, the first thought in my head is often, Oooh, I really want that shoe! And then, even though the thought of wearing a stiletto is, shall we say, a bit over the top for me, I run through in my head all the places I might possibly go to procure such a lovely, sexy, impossibly-angled pair of shiny red stilettos at a reasonable price. I even had, for a while, this annoying sing-song phrase running through my head (like the McDonald's "Filet-o-Fish" ad): give-me-that-sti-let-to-heel / give-me-that-heel.

Unsqueezed #3616.jpgAs you can see, I've come a long way.

The shoe on the cover of Unsqueezed gets to me because in one sweeping blow it identifies something that I really love and then tells me that I need to be free of it. And it's not just the shoe that it tells me I need freedom from, but everything the shoe represents--which is, according to Starbuck, our culture's "ill-fitting," "death-dealing" concept of beauty. Says Starbuck, "Enlightened women like us know better. . . . we're aware of our culture's distorted perception of beauty. . . . [But] dissatisfied with our bodies . . . and against our better judgment--many of us still buy into it all." Preach it, Margot!

Honestly, though, I want to argue with the shoe on the cover: Really, wearing high-heeled shoes is proof of how accepting I've become of my height. What's so bad about that? Or, Would not wearing these awesome shimmery purple pumps really mean that I have a healthy self-image? No. I like them, I'm wearing them, and I don't care what anyone says--including you, silly red-shoe-bedecked book cover! Never mind the fact that my toes go numb after standing in them for twenty minutes; or that my back swells and aches from compensating for the unnatural position it must adopt to accommodate my otherwise impeccable taste in shoes; or how hugely impractical these contraptions are when your car breaks down in a blizzard five miles from help. (Though they smite me, yet will I wear them . . .)

Yes, when it comes to how we present ourselves, women (and men, too) take far more drastic steps than wearing tall shoes, to be sure. But why do we insist upon making our bodies billboards of self-awareness? Starbuck has honed in on some reasons--lies, marketing, greed, shame. And she helps us redirect our self-obsession toward an understanding of what our bodies are really for--worship, mission, movement, relationship, service, justice--and how we can use them for the good of others and the world around us. (And she accomplishes all this while being really funny. Seriously.)

Here's Margot's take on how to step out of the mold:

Many of us think about ourselves, our bodies, all day long.

"Yeah," you might agree, "but how do you not do that?" That's the real question.

Telling someone not to think about themselves is like telling someone not to think about a pink elephant. Only, instead of an elephant, it's more like telling them to not to think . . . thoughts. Deciding not to think about ourselves, not to dwell on our bodies, is no small feat. 

If we are to succeed, we sort of need a better plan.

Pastor and author Tim Keller mentions, in one of his sermons, the way that C. S. Lewis describes this humble sort of person who's not so obsessed with himself. "Do not imagine," writes Lewis, "that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody."

Please stay focused and try not to be distracted trying to visualize a greasy smarmy person.

Lewis continues, "Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him." If you've ever encountered someone like that, someone who's genuinely interested in what you're saying, you know how fantastic it is to be in their presence.

Did you catch that movement? Our eyes are freed up from being glued to ourselves when they are turned toward others. Granted, this is sort of a chicken and egg situation. Which comes first? Do we have to be freed from self-obsession first, before we can turn completely toward another? That seems like a tall, unlikely order. Or could it be that when we purpose to be concerned about someone else, when we take little dropped-stitch baby steps to make it happen, that's when the magic happens and we're liberated from having to think about ourselves so much.

I see an awful lot of hope in the latter. For everyone. However it happens, the shift from obsessive introspection to other-centered living is the movement into which we're called.


--The very brilliant cover of Unsqueezed was impeccably designed by Cindy Kiple.

--Excerpt taken from chapter eight, "Self-Preoccupation."

Posted by Christa Countryman at 1:22 PM | Comments (5) are closed

October 26, 2009

What Genesis Has Made Us

Of all the books in the Bible, I'd say that Genesis has the most capacity to capture the imagination. Genesis features countless stories that get stuck in little kids' heads--Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Sarah, Lot and Sodom, Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Jacob and Laban, Joseph and his brothers, Joseph and Pharaoh. All these stories are on every short list for inclusion in every picture Bible ever approved for publication.

But Genesis has proven that it's not just for kids. It's Genesis that keeps the debate raging over whether we emerged out of a primordial soup or were formed by God from the dust of the earth, and whether our planet is thousands or billions of years old. It's Genesis that keeps literary critics interested in the Bible, as they trace back contemporary gender, ethnic and power dynamics to this constitutional epic. Journalists, comedians, artists, musicians, poets, scientists and politicians alike look to Genesis to stimulate their imagination. We are, in a sense, what Genesis has made us.

Of course, all this appropriation of Genesis doesn't mean that everyone reads it the same way; there are seemingly infinite interpretations and biases that Genesis can support. One of the most recent is Robert Crumb's graphic treatment, The Book of Genesis Illustrated. Crumb, an early innovator in underground comix who made his mark with irreverent humor and bodacious body parts (including the notorious Fritz the Cat), has shown his genius in later works both autobiographical and philosophical. R. Crumb's graphic Genesis is generating buzz from the New Yorker to UCLA's Hammer Museum as a shockingly comprehensive and sophisticated interpretation of the first book of the Scriptures.

Crumb grew up a practicing Catholic but left the faith at age sixteen. His participation in the drug culture of the 1960s and 1970s is a reflection of his broader appropriation of the Zeitgeist; his art from that era was cutely anarchic and hedonistic, displaying a sort of existentialism that is more fully acknowledged in his later illustrated introduction to Franz Kafka. His 1978 marriage to Aline Kominsky led to a more focused exploration of Jewish spirituality and worldview, which comes through in Genesis Illustrated.

Crumb is a man of his time, and his interpretation of Genesis is a reflection of that reality. For him, Genesis's God is an angry old man, committing deicide against polytheistic traditions even as he's portrayed creating the world in six days. Genesis is a chronicle of women nurturing the divine feminine in secret while men rule and wreck the world. Genesis is a statement on the way the world works, and a call to humility that's given expression fully and finally in Joseph's merciful treatment of his brothers at the moment of their reconciliation. For all its declarations of the origin of humankind and its Creator, Crumb's Genesis is a treatise on how to live well after God.

Crumb is entitled to his opinion, of course, and while orthodox Christians may find his work unpalatable, his interpretation will take its place at the table with other serious considerations of what Genesis means. That's a good thing: a book as ambitious as Genesis, with as much capacity to capture and shape our imagination, rewards multiple readings and broad conversation. One might argue that God himself invites us to look beyond the God of Genesis. After all, there's plenty more Bible where that came from, and to live well we would benefit from looking similarly toward the God of the exodus, the exile, the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, the Pentecost, the kingdom come.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 9:22 AM

July 14, 2009

My Summer Nemesis

Okay. Maybe The Brothers Karamazov isn't my nemesis per se, but this tome has been mocking me from my very tall bookshelf for at least six years. Every summer I take it down from its little perch and set it on top of the pile of books I hope to get through with all of the "extra time" summer inevitably provides for reading. And every year the summer draws to a close and The Brothers returns to its shelf unopened--except for three summers.

Each of the three years I tried to make good on my intention to read The Brothers, I made it a grand total of about fifty pages, at which point I invariably said to myself, I just can't give this the time it deserves. Grand justification, I think: it retains the bibliophile's piety while crediting the work with the appropriate amount of depth and complexity. I might have added, Really, I started reading it for the wrong reasons anyway.

There are lots of good reasons to read books--even long, foreign classics whose tonnage is comparable to that of a Sumo wrestler. Most of us know why we read--for education, for pleasure, for self-improvement or for vocational advancement. Self-torture is unlikely to make it into a list of reasons to read. In fact, if you're like me, you have a few shelves of books which you purchased in moments of enlightened clarity--books that you "should" read, books that you felt you "should want" to read. And so you bought them, and when you returned from that cloud of misty enlightenment you realized (maybe even after a few pages of dutiful reading) that you did not want to read those books at all. But maybe you would read them later. Or use them for reference. Or, perhaps their words would slip into your dreams by some form of literary osmosis as they lay stacked beside your bed.

When I think about The Brothers Karamazov, I invariably experience a wave of vague shame at my failure to make it to the end. Most other unread books have very little (if any) psychological effect on me. For whatever reason, this one has stuck with me, so this summer I decided to take it up again--largely due to the fact that a good friend had started reading the book, and I thought that I could count on that person to compare notes and progress with.

No such luck. She bailed on The Brothers and picked up Crime and Punishment instead. This made me curious to find out if Dostoevsky's tome has had this effect on others. I began to ask around to see if anyone else had finished the book. To date I know of one person who has, and he took it upon himself to read much of the Russian literary canon plus commentaries just for kicks and giggles. (Needless to say, pride prevents me from comparing notes with him.) Everyone else I've asked who started The Brothers at some point bailed on the project. One person even suggested that Russian literature is best read in winter. This leaves me in lonely straits.

But it does not leave me unresolved. I've started it, and this time I intend to finish it. In truth, this time around I've rather enjoyed the story. And anyway, maybe summer isn't complete without a summer dare. Since summer doesn't officially end until September 22, there is plenty of time to take this one up.

Posted by Christa Countryman at 12:02 PM | Comments (7) are closed | TrackBack (0)

June 2, 2009

Is 2029 to Publishers What 2012 Was to Mayans?!?!?

A note to Likewise authors from the Washington Post: "Word of mouth has long been the holy grail of book marketing." Tell all your friends.

But for goodness' sake, don't tell them in person or over the phone. Send them an e-mail with a URL for your book page; group-message them on Facebook with an embedded link; blog about it; tweet about it. Display it, don't say it. The mouth has gone digital.

My friend Mr. Steve turned me on to this report from BookExpo America, only the latest industry-wide hand-wringing to take place among publishers in light of an economic downturn and a technological shift to a paperless (surely that doesn't mean bookless?) society. According to some, including authors of recently printed and bound and pricey books about information longing to be free, publishing is not moving inevitably into extinction, but it does desperately need a facelift and a tummy tuck.

The world may end, according to the Mayans, in 2012, but on the off chance it doesn't, the printed book may vanish by 2029. In its place will be digital content that transcends particular platforms such as the Kindle, let alone paper and ink. That digital content, we're invited to presume, will emerge 140 characters at a time, as Twitter and Facebook and other social networking locales become greenhouses for long-form content.

If I may borrow from Battlestar Galactica, all this has happened before and will happen again. It's not so much ideas and art that live and die; it's the media through which those ideas and art are conveyed, and the architects and profiteers of those media. Such has been the dilemma of news, which is experiencing a shift from newsprint to something else as we speak, and music, which has provided its own moribund soundtrack for the past few decades as the corporate giants of the recording industry shrink while indie music on Myspace grows. Again from the Post:

The music industry, broadly defined--which includes bands, fans, concerts, recordings, iPods, etc.--is thriving, [Wired editor Chris Anderson] said. It is only the major labels, with their foolish attempt to cling to the CD model, that crashed.

Trust me, those of us in the "major labels" of book publishing (even us minor leaguers) are strategically stroking our beards and scratching our heads over this. But again, dear authors, you're not off the hook. If Facebook and Twitter are the breeding grounds of the new literati (and not of the new illiterati, as their naysayers might suggest), then writers need to figure out what art looks like in those media, how ideas there germinate and sprout and blossom and flourish, and what shape such a fully evolved idea ought to take. If we're going to publish in new ways, we need truly new stuff to publish.

So there you go. Your twenty-year mission, authors, should you choose to accept it, is to change the way we absorb, engage and convey fully conceived ideas. As for us publishers, our twenty-year mission is to figure out how to make money off of it, and of you. So say we all.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:01 AM

February 16, 2009

Contact Papers

One of the things about becoming an author is that your intersection with the world expands. No longer are you known only by people you've met, you're now known by people you've not met. And every so often those unmet readers introduce themselves to you.

I've met a variety of people through the Internet, some of whom introduce themselves to me as being fans of my writing. Go figure. I'm occasionally interrupted, for example, by an instant message from an undergraduate student in Wisconsin who tells me I remind her of Donald Miller. She's always writing funny stuff like that. And while in Miami one week I met a guy, quite serendipitously, who's read "everything [I've] ever written." We talked together and prayed together, and we've since continued our conversation through the World Wide Web.

I'm starting to think that books are, more than anything, springboards to a more particular, more meaningful conversation. For someone who makes his living in the publishing industry, I actually hold a relatively low view of books--not low in the sense that I think they're silly or meaningless but in the sense that they, like a "low church," are at their best when they close the gap between the inherent mystique of the thing and the lived worldview of its constituency.

Books, regardless of their particular depth or shallowness, can function as icebreakers that give people entry into one another's lives. From there we can move to weightier, more existential conversations--the newly discovered past abuse of a loved one and its impact on an adult relationship; the suspicion that God is calling someone to a dramatic shift in their life's trajectory; the nagging perplexity of a God who seems appealing and a religious system that seems oppressive. The best books carry content that's worth reading, but they go further by inviting the reader to go further--into an idea and into community. The best books, then, allow that there is a universe beyond them, and they seek to make meaningful contact.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 7:11 AM

December 10, 2008

The Sins of the Author Are Visited on the Editor

Sometimes when you edit a book, particularly a book of nonfiction and especially a book of Christian nonfiction, you get the feeling that the author has been spying on you. Call me a megalomaniac, but I had that experience today. What follows is a lightly edited pair of paragraphs from a draft manuscript for an as-yet unscheduled, untitled book:

I am an ENFP. If you know the Myers-Briggs personality types, you know that the ENFP is the easily distractible, often zany, poor at follow-through, overly dramatic personality type who speaks in run-on sentences and is apparently personified in the character Ariel from Disney's The Little Mermaid, which is weird because my college Spanish teacher suggested I take the name Ariel since words that begin with the "s" sound are nonexistent in Spanish and ... See what I mean?

There are numerous aspects of this personality type which make us very poor tyrants. Namely, we are too obsessed with being liked. Add to this the fact that I am a nine on the Enneagram (another personality measuring tool based on your chief sin), and dictatorial leadership becomes nearly impossible. The nine on the Enneagram struggles with sloth, or the need to avoid. In other words, that sound the car is making will probably go away if you just stop listening to it and those complaints about your supervisee will work themselves out eventually if you pretend they don't exist. Nines on the Enneagram have given us such memorable leaders as Dan Quayle and Gerald Ford. No, not the guy who mass-produced the automobile; the U.S. president Rolling Stone magazine called the most forgettable since Millard Fillmore (Millard who?).

I am an ENFP and a nine on the Enneagram who ignores noises in the vain hope that they'll resolve themselves and is mildly obsessed with being liked. The only thing about these paragraphs that I don't identify with myself is the stuff about Spanish class and The Little Mermaid. I think perhaps my phone has been bugged.

It's one thing when something you read that reminds you of yourself is objectively positive--for example, "ENFPs can make friends with pretty much anyone." Ah, that's nice. But that's not what this author is doing here. My dear author is being confessional, and he's implicating me in his confession. How dare he?!?

That's a hidden value of confession, I think. It has a corporate aspect to it that is often overlooked--sometimes even on purpose. When people hear statements that cut a little too close to the bone, they often quickly distance themselves from it: "You're right. I like being liked as much as anyone, but you're crazy about it. You should lighten up." The degree to which a personal confession takes on a corporate life, however, is the degree to which it is prophetic.

I'm reminded of Isaiah's confession in the presence of the Lord seated on the throne: "Woe unto me! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." If I had been within earshot of Isaiah, I most likely would have said something equally pious such as "Hold the phone, Isaiah! Speak for yourself!" But he was right, and there's no sense denying it once it's out there. Behold the power of confession: it opens the door for a community to better understand itself and its need for the grace and mercy of God.

Confession also, of course, alerts the community to the reality of God's grace and mercy, which is a nice side effect. At my church we offer a corporate prayer of confession, followed by a time of silent confession, followed by the passing of the Lord's peace. We wind up being the hands of Jesus for each other, speaking the words of Jesus to each other--"Peace be with you"--in the immediate wake of our acknowledging our failings in the company of one another. Behold the power of a community of faith: in case you forget, you're reminded that God is love, and sins are forgiven.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:45 PM | Comments (1) are closed

August 22, 2008

This Month's Donkey Congress: The Shack

Yesterday a group of us associated with Likewise Books met over lunch in our bimonthly Donkey Congress to discuss the runaway bestselling novel/theological treatise The Shack. We didn't publish it, but we read it anyway, because we're not particularly provincial. Anyway, I could write a summary of the nature and tone of our discussion, but I don't have to, because my friend Al Hsu already did. You can read his very thoughtful post over at his blog.

The thing about group discussions is that every one is different, even if they all involve the same book. I actually attended another discussion about The Shack earlier this week populated not by publishing professionals such as myself but by people involved in lay or vocational ministry. The conversation was slightly different and perhaps less critical theologically than the in-office Donkey Congress, but again people saw great potential in a book that Eugene Peterson called this generation's Pilgrim's Progress, Al Hsu called this generation's Disappointment with God and I'll call, I guess, this millennium's Confessions. Or this month's The Secret. Take your pick.

Our next Donkey Congress will be in late October, where we'll discuss the forthcoming book by Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers. If you're interested in hosting a Donkey Congress in your very own time zone, give us a shout.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:30 AM | Comments (1) are closed

July 31, 2008

The Books I Could Bring

From the time I was four up into my college years, my family and I spent at least one week of every summer with my grandparents at a cottage in a small town in Canada. We swam, we read, we went for long walks in the mornings, we read, we slept, we read, we ate good food, we read, we played games. And we read. Being avid booklovers, our whole family could often be seen sitting in the cottage's "living room" (which was also the "dining room"), each buried in a different book. I still remember the excitement of packing for that vacation each year, and in particular deciding which books to take with me. Usually I just took them all.

I'm feeling that same childlike excitement about a cottage vacation coming up in August. This time my family and I will be in Michigan (the cottage in Canada is no longer available), but I am anticipating a similar restful rhythm of sleeping, eating, walking and--mostly--reading. So I thought I'd give you a peek at a few of the books on my short list for vacation. And since my sister and I will be driving rather than flying, I'll have plenty of room for ten or twenty extra books, just in case. In no particular order, here they are:

1. Two books by Naomi Shihab Nye (who's a favorite of mine already): Her newest book of poems and short prose, called Honeybee, and a book of essays (to inspire me toward my grad-school aspirations in creative nonfiction), Never in a Hurry. The title alone tells me I need to read this one in particular, since my life feels like it could, unfortunately, be aptly titled Always in a Hurry.

2. Amazing Grace by Kathleen Norris. I've owned this one for a while now and never read it. I'm excited about what she's trying to do in this book--to name things in a new way, and explore of the power and limits of language.

3. Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall, Denver Moore and Lynn Vincent. This is a true story about the friendship formed between two men who come from completely different backgrounds, economic statuses and perspectives. They each write alternating chapters, so their own voices come through. I'm hoping it will help me get outside my own suburban world and see the reality of other people's existence--as well as the beauty of each person made in God's image.

4. And now for a little fiction: The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. I saw the movie of this and thought it was a little flat; characters and emotions were underdeveloped. I suspected, as I always do, that I'd like the book better. My sister just read the book and loved it for Lahiri's beautiful writing. So she's passed it on to me. Also, if you haven't seen the book--it's got a beautiful cover.

5. Also in the fiction genre, The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai. I just saw this one at Barnes & Noble this week, and it's gotten great reviews, including a starred review from Amazon. It takes place in India in the 1980s and is centered around a retired judge, his orphaned granddaughter, his cook and the cook's son (who lives in Manhattan). I'm attracted to it both for the range of themes it seems to cover (personal relationships, politics, modernization, economics) and, again, for perspective on the lives of people who live in cultures far different from the one I know.

On top of those, there's The Secret Life of Bees, Population 485, Left to Tell, maybe some Buechner or Mary Oliver, The Wild Iris . . . there are so many to choose from. Most likely, I won't even get through half of these. But most likely, you'll know which ones I did read, as I'm sure any of the books I've mentioned will spark many Strangely Dim-worthy thoughts and questions.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 7:54 AM

March 19, 2008

On the Great Cloud

You have these moments, every once in a while, when you discover that what you thought was just another ordinary moment is actually something closer to momentous. I had such a moment this morning, when I interviewed an author for an IVP office meeting and, mid-question, realized that this particular author, over the past half-century, has helped to define much of what American evangelicalism has become.

Marie Little is a petite, unassuming ninety-year-old woman with poor eyesight and even poorer hearing. She lost her husband, Paul, in a car accident thirty-three years ago. Since then she's regularly revised and updated his writing to keep it fresh and relevant in a changing publishing climate. Last month IVP Books rereleased two of Paul's books--Know Why You Believe and How to Give Away Your Faith--alongside two books we recently acquired from another publisher: Know Who and Know What You Believe. Marie came to the office for an interview and a reception.

Paul's writing was an extension of his work for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, addressing the core issues he encountered as he spoke to and, more important, listened to college students. There's great footage of Paul interacting directly with students in the video on our website. These college students had sharp intellects and a sixties-era suspicion of all things inherited, particularly the church. Paul honored their skepticism and their intellect, and very effectively turned them again and again toward Jesus, the author and perfecter of their faith. He would go on to write books such as the million-selling How to Give Away Your Faith and Know Why You Believe, one of Christianity Today's fifty books that have influenced evangelicals the most. He would also help to shape the Western church's approach to missions and evangelism through Urbana student mission conferences and the Lausanne Conference, and to teach evangelism to budding pastors and ministers at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Marie was no slouch herself, having spent four years in China in the midst of its Communist upheaval, having started a campus Christian fellowship under the skeptical supervision of a dubious university president, having sought out and nurtured international students as they struggled to make a home in an alien environment. Nor has she been a slouch in the thirty-plus years since Paul's death, both in her writing and revising, and in her ministry to laypeople and leaders at her church and neighbors at her retirement home.

I had four questions to ask Marie during the interview, three of which I dumped in favor of more fascinating topics. The question I kept was this: What is the ongoing task of Christian publishing? She responded with a heartfelt appeal to keep the Word of God central as a point of magnificent connection: the Bible reminds us throughout, and centrally in Christ, that

The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)

Lately I've found myself in a lot of direct interactions with the elderly, and it's only when I'm particularly alert--and even then at best midway through the conversation and more often long after the encounter--that I realize how much history is contained in a single person: how much each set of eyes, however weak, has seen; how much each set of ears, however compromised, has heard. I tend to make much of the up and comers, those authors and thinkers and doers who will define the church out in front of us. But today at least I was reawakened to a healthy respect for those who came before me and whose sweat and anguish contributed to the faith that's been handed down to me.

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 8:10 AM

February 15, 2008

Highly Unusual

This almost never happens: IVP Books is looking for reader input about the cover design for Just Courage, a forthcoming book by Gary Haugen. You can vote for your favorite here.

Gary Haugen is the president of International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that does battle against the sex trade and exposes slave-labor practices throughout the world, out of a Christian conviction about the God-given dignity of human beings. You can learn more about IJM here.

Cover design is normally a pretty cloistered process. The designer works in relative solitude, reading through the manuscript and coming up with a few possible creative concepts for how the book's central ideas might be conveyed visually. The designer has to reconcile several complex factors in the process of designing a cover, including who the anticipated audience is, where they might reasonably be expected to run across the book, and what images, colors and other visual elements will compel the potential reader to look more closely.

The clock is always ticking, of course, and eventually the designer must show her work to a select group of industry professionals--experts in marketing and selling books, for example, and the editor or editors most familiar with the book, the author and the subject. These folks scratch their heads, stroke their chins, squint and stare from far off and close up as they consider how the proposed covers will appear in ads, online and on the bookshelf. Feel free to pity the poor designer; hardly anyone's work is so broadly and carefully scrutinized.

This work almost always takes place behind the scenes because it's so important to the success of a book, and because the capacity for people's preferences and prejudices about fonts, colors, pictures and shapes to subvert their objectivity is frustratingly high. The only controlled environment, the conventional wisdom goes, for objective decision making about cover design is a conference room in a corporate office somewhere, peopled by professionals who are self-correcting and correcting each other when the occasional slide into personal preference starts to show itself.

Why in the world, then, is IVP Books pulling back the curtain on Gary Haugen's new book? The main reason, perhaps, is that we want everyone to read it. The work of the International Justice Mission cuts across demographics and niche markets precisely because it is an international work that serves the cause of justice, and we each are called to be concerned for justice in the world God has placed us in.

That doesn't mean that we don't want everyone to read all our other books, nor does it mean that we think our other books are less important than this one. What it means is simply that since justice is the responsibility of each of us, we're open in this instance to give each of us a voice.

So stop hanging around here; get over to Behind the Books and vote!

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at 2:34 PM

February 5, 2008

On Books

Friend and coworker Ellen Hsu tagged me in her family blog last week, so, inspired by her, I'm offering you a look inside some of my reading preferences. As you can see, for some of the questions I had a hard time limiting myself to just one book.

1. One book that changed your life: Good News About Injustice by Gary Haugen (published by InterVarsity Press!). I read this after I returned from Cambodia in 2005. It reveals so clearly how deeply God's heart beats for justice, and it did a lot to further my thinking about the roles I can play in fighting injustice. Also Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference? by Philip Yancey. I read this at a point when I was wrestling with why we pray. And, while Yancey doesn't offer easy answers or really many answers at all, his words and reflections and questions and honesty deepened both my desire to pray and my faith that prayer is essential and does, in fact, make a difference--more than we often know.

2. One book that you have read more than once: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. Is it any wonder why? It's amazing.

3. One book you would want on a desert island: The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, which I haven't actually read yet because I haven't had the quiet and space and uninterrupted time a desert island would afford to process what's in it. And I'd take Fred Van Dyke's teaching notes from the class he taught on the book a few years ago at my church.

4. Two books that made you laugh: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. Nobody has characters quite like Dickens. Also, the Mitford books by Jan Karon. I'm currently reading the second book, prompted by others I know who read the books and loved them, and by Lauren Winner's confession that the Mitford books played a role in her conversion from Judaism to Christianity. Maybe you have to have grown up in a small town as a pastor's kid like I did to really appreciate the Mitford books in your twenties, but whatever the reason--I just really like them. The quirky characters (some of whom will remind you of people you know!) and the trueness of small-town life and ministry that Karon has captured make me laugh.

5. One book that made you cry: Well, I don't know if I actually cried, but if I didn't I must have been close: When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge by Chanrithy Him. I read this before my first trip to Cambodia in 2005. It's hard to believe what some people have endured in their lifetime.

6. One book you wish you'd written: Girl Meets God by Lauren Winner. I love her writing style, the way the book is organized, her thought processes and the way she weaves together the different experiences of her life. And one more: The Words Under the Words, a collection of poetry by Naomi Shihab Nye. I'd love to write poetry like what's in this book.

7. Two books you are currently reading: A Light in the Window by Jan Karon (see #4) and Likewise's very own Life After Church by Brian Sanders, in preparation for our Likewise Donkey Congress on February 14. Stay tuned.

8. One book you've been meaning to read:
Searching for God Knows What by Donald Miller. And about fifty others. But that's one that's at the top of the list right now.

Now it's your turn! Lindsay? Keith? Doug and Julie? Post your own answers on your blog, or leave us a comment about books you've read.

Posted by Lisa Rieck at 4:18 PM | Comments (2) are closed

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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