I receive a new book to review almost every day; usually three or four. I am glad I am loved, but it can be overwhelming. There is no way I have space to include reviews of all these titles in Bible Study Magazine, so I have to choose which ones will make the cut. I also have to choose which ones get to stay in my office at the end of the year. And then I have to apologize to the rest of the books that get moved to a lonely shelf somewhere else. (Sorry my friends. Just because you are exiled doesn’t mean I don’t love you.)
This year, spring came early in “the city of subdued excitement,” Bellingham, Washington. This meant it was time for some old friends (my books) to get the boot. Time to let Recyclops, Dwight Schrute, move them to the lonely, nomad shelf. (I really moved them with the help of my buddy Phil Gons, who is a Marketing Manager at Logos Bible Software where we both work.)
When sorting through the books, I observed some trends in Christian publishing, and Christianity in general. Here are the 10 things I learned from examining the front-list Christian books on my floor:
1. Christian memoirs are the future. We love stories. Hence the reason why I am writing The Infinite in Everything memoir-style. Shout out to my friend Joan Ball for her new memoir, Flirting with Faith and to the memoir king, Donald Miller, for his new title A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. Shout outs just because I think you guys know how to write—no other reason.
2. There is a new book on prayer every month (maybe every week). This is not a bad thing. I am glad to see people talking about prayer. I need prayer. And I think prayer is one of the top 10 reasons why I am alive today. (But that’s another story.)
3. Commentary sets are never complete. Maybe I am exaggerating just a bit, but (seriously), scholarship takes a long time. I have known this for for-ev-er. (Big shout out to The Sandlot.) I am still amazed when I think about the amount of cat herders it must take to round up all those scholars, and then prompt them to hit deadlines, or at least make them promise to.
4. Bible dictionaries are not that different from one another. Some are just better. Enough said.
5. Short books are hot—and more popular than long ones. (I can't believe I just used a term Paris Hilton coined. Pop Culture: One. John: Zero.) We are on information overload. That needs no explanation. Editors this is a plea, a cry: Cut your books down. If it’s not necessary, take it out back and pull out the ax. Get serious about deleting stuff. It will save you money and save us time. Another shout out: This time to Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson, who said that books should be trimmed down (way down).
6. General “How to Study the Bible” books will always be popular. The Bible is confusing, and we need all the help we can get.
7. Commentary sets are becoming niche. Commentary sets are being geared towards a target audience. This is a shift from all those general commentaries—which are great, by the way—but niche marketing makes more sense.
8. Coffee table books with brief facts that are photo rich are "in." I love coffee. (Especially french-pressed black coffee and Americanos; just saying in case you want to hook me up.) So, rock on coffee tables and the coffee industry, and all those rad books I can read while sipping Joe. (Yes, I use terms from 1990.)
9. Scholars are writing magnus opus volumes like crazy: history of this, theology of that. These are legacy volumes, so they are hugely helpful reference works. Nonetheless, when reading a book makes your too-long-at-a-computer arms sweat, you know editors need to work harder. Otherwise, we may have to lay off the double-chocolate chip cookies. Editors, don’t put bakers out of business. (Trend #5 to the rescue.)
10. Publishers are more selective. This is a general feeling; not a confirmed fact. But if I am right, "Amen, amen and amen." This means less books being published and more publicity for fewer. Better quality. Better editing. Better publicity. Less money spent. Everyone is happy but the writers who can’t get a publishing contract. I feel bad for all my writer friends when I say this, but it needs to happen. (Again, exile doesn’t mean I don’t love you. Getting a publishing contract can be hard. But if you really wrote an excellent book, you will likely get one.) Only incredible, couch-worthy works should be published in print. Make me want that second cup of coffee so that I can stay awake one more hour to finish your book.
What does this tell us about Christianity—both in the now and in the future? What are we interested in? Why are we interested in it? What would you add to the list? (Does this help you see how the infinite God is working in everything?)