750,000 Words

There’s a saying in publishing that writers should take to heart: Edit to amplify. Editing is hard work, but it makes all the difference in the world. Too many unnecessary words dilute the message and cloud the story. As Mark Twain famously said to a friend, “I would have written you a short letter, but I didn’t have time, so I wrote you a long one instead.”

There’s no one who exemplifies the power of crisp editing better than God, the world’s all-time bestselling author. His written word, known by modern readers as the Bible, clocks in at an efficient 750,000 words.

You may be rolling your eyes at that number, thinking that three-quarters of a million is a lot of words. If so, consider this. William Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets total 960,000 words. The Harry Potter books come in at just over a million. As Jon Bloom observed in his blog, “Numbers like these simply make us pause and wonder over God’s written word economy.

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The Power of Books

Two events occurred this past week that bring to mind the power of books. On July 25, Tim LaHaye died, and six days later, at precisely 12:01 am on July 31, the eighth Harry Potter book was released.

LaHaye, of course, was the creator and co-author of Left Behind, a series of 16 books published between 1995 and 2007 that became the bestselling series of Christian fiction books in history, with 80 million copies sold to date.

The first Harry Potter book was published the year the last Left Behind novel was released. In the nine years since, more than 450 million Harry Potter books have been sold worldwide, making J.K. Rowling’s iconic books the bestselling general fiction series of all time.

For its part, Left Behind had an enormous impact on Christian publishing and bookselling, showing that fiction books with biblical themes could find a wide audience, while bringing new customers to Christian bookstores at a time when the retail landscape was changing. Harry Potter encouraged a new generation of readers and spawned countless films, ancillary products, even a theme park.

That’s pretty powerful stuff, and it all started with two series of books.
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The bestselling books of all time are stories

I've always been fascinating with Top 10 lists, especially when they involve books. I suppose that comes from being around books all my life: selling them, writing them and now publishing them. Just this week I ran across a Top 10 book list that made me stop and reflect on what makes a book a bestseller. Thanks to a post from Justin Taylor, I found a graphic showing the Top 10 books over the last 50 years (If you can't quite read the graph, click here for a closer look). It's a fascinating and instructive list for one very simple reason: 8 of the Top 10 books are stories.

Number one, of course, is the Bible, the greatest Story of all (and the bestselling book, not just in the last 50 years, but for all time and by a wide margin), followed by Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Alchemist, The Da Vinci Code, The Twilight Saga, Gone With the Wind, and The Diary of Anne Frank. The only exceptions are Quotations from Chairman Mao (otherwise known as The Little Red Book), and Think and Grow Rich (one of the bestselling "self-improvement" books of all time). And if you throw out Quotations from Chairman Mao, mainly because it's probably required reading in Chairman Mao's home country, you're left with just one book in the Top 10 most popular books of the last 50 years that isn't a story.

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Harry Potter and the Lively Shallows

Don't come looking for that essay.

I am neither a Potter apologist nor a Potter panicker. The world is already filled with the informed opinions of many, many people for whom J.K. Rowling is either the patron saint of Literary Genius or the Devil-in-a-Children’s-Book. If you would like one of those two opinions, I have good news: someone is waiting to talk with you about it. For a long time.

This is, however, an essay about the peculiar way that contemporary society finds empty wells—very deep ones—and tries to fill them. It is an essay about the very lively pursuit of meaning and the shallow joy that often comes from it. It is, in short, a discovery that hardcore Harry Potter fans, given the right savior, would make excellent disciples.

Fandom, like Christianity, is often misunderstood by outsiders.

Hobbits, Vampires, and Wizards: How Should Christians Read?

What we read has an important effect on who we are -- both for good and for bad. How can we think through what is helpful and what is not helpful for our walk with Christ? Using St Paul and C.S. Lewis as guides, Dr Ordway explores ways to think in a Christian way about the choices we make in our reading. Rather than just presenting a list of "good" or "bad" books, she helps us find ways to think through our choices in a Christian context.

Suddenly, Last Summer

The first day of fall has arrived—what better opportunity to survey the summer harvest? It wasn’t the richest crop, but there’s a lot to look forward to what with a forthcoming Coen brothers comedy, a Wes Anderson animation, a Robert Zemeckis holiday extravaganza, and a shadowy Terrence Malick epic that threatens to be pushed back a year. Where I’m standing, the year is young. And that’s a good thing.

Walt & El Grupo. Excavation of an obscure corner of film history during which Walt Disney left the bosom of his flagging animation studio for the tangy nightlife of South America with respect to Roosevelt’s Good Neighbor policy. “El grupo” refers to the diverse team of artists who accompanied him there and came back with the rudiments for Saludos Amigos and The Three Caballeros, two of his most vibrantly colored feature films. What Theodore Thomas’s documentary lacks in drama and tension it makes up for in clarity and organization. (Extra points for shooting in soft 35mm as opposed to digital video.) Disney buffs won’t need any further endorsement than the sight of Uncle Walt in gaucho garb riding a bucking bronco.
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Christmas in July

Last Fall a piece of flair was being passed around Facebook that caught my attention.  (“Flair” are fake buttons you can give your friends electronically – seriously don’t ever join Facebook.) On the little button it declared in bold print: Attention! HP fans Christmas has been moved to July! It was not talking about the latest deskjet printer, no, it was talking about “the boy who lived” – Harry Potter. Christmas had been moved to July for every hardcore Potter fan out there. With reasons unbeknownst to any of us, the sixth installment was pushed back and my friends, I’m happy to say it’s finally July. On Tuesday night a bunch of us will gather at my house for an absurdly late potluck and caffeine binge as we try to stay up way past our adult bedtimes of 10pm for a midnight showing.  I couldn’t be more excited.
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