Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, ebooks

Ebooks vs. “Real” Books? No.

Nah, this post isn’t a part of the common debate about which is better, ebooks or print books. If you have a preference for one over the other, then, hey, more power to you. Long live reading, either way!

Even so, I notice how readers sometimes frame the debate, or refer to books in general: ebooks versus “real” books—as if to say ebooks aren’t also real. Nothing like the feel of holding a book in your hands, and so forth.

Well. Maybe people who used to read scrolls in the past considered those to be real books, and the idea of printing books with a newfangled press contraption would seem too mechanical to them, too unnatural. “Nothing like the feel of unrolling a scroll and reading script written by the hand of a living, breathing human being, not printed by way of a cold, inanimate machine. If it’s not something handwritten that you can scroll up, it’s not the real thing.”

Maybe people from nomadic cultures with oral traditions would say, “Um…why would you need to hold something in your hands to enjoy a story? It’s much better to hear a story in the presence of the storyteller, to hear it directly from the storyteller’s mouth. It’s the only way you can fully trust the speaker. Reading a story on paper would be impersonal and kind of…weird. If it’s not oral storytelling in person, then it’s not the real thing.”

Whatever the form may be, what makes a book “the real thing” to you is in how you’ve learned to think about books. Digital books are real, too. They just come in a different form than print. All the words are there, and that’s the most crucial part that makes a book a book—the author’s words.

As wonderful as a print book is, without the words inside, you’d just have a bound stack of paper.

People sometimes use the immaterial aspect of ebooks as an argument for their lack of realness. Like, “Ebooks are in an intangible ‘cloud’ somewhere. What if there’s a blackout? Then the ebooks are gone.” I used to say similar stuff myself.

Is it true, though? Think of the nature of the Internet, how pressing a “Delete” button doesn’t really remove data from cyberspace. It’s still there somewhere, even if you can’t personally see it. And if it’s still there, it’s retrievable, even if you’re not the one who knows how to retrieve it.

Yes, incidents like fires or blackouts could be unfortunate, but it’s one thing if print books are totally burned up in a fire. If there aren’t any other copies anywhere, then, tangible as they were, you can’t get those print books back. However, because ebooks are in a cloud where data hangs around, there’s a chance that blacked-out ebooks can pop up again during data retrieval.

Besides, I’d say for many to most of us, we already know from life and experience that just because something isn’t physically touchable doesn’t mean it isn’t real. (When’s the last time you physically held the love you have for your family and friends? Is love not real merely because you can’t pick it up and handle it like an object? Not an exact comparison, I know, but you get it.)

The way I think about ebooks has changed over the years. No, I can’t smell ’em or let their pages flip through my fingers, but once I’m focused on the main part, the words, then I can let the story be the story. Even without a physically present storyteller or a scroll of parchment to unroll.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I myself have an overall preference, and I prefer reading print books, for tactile and sentimental reasons. More power to me, and long live reading!

Still, I don’t think hardbacks and paperbacks are the only real books around. I’ve encountered some amazing books in digital form. And, yeah, they’re the real thing.

Past Annual Book Award winners on my blog.

A Few
Amazing
Ebooks
I’ve Read

 

Books

“Political Correctness” in Fiction

It happened again. My comments on someone else’s blog post prompted me to write a post of my own. This time, the discussion was at the Sweet Americana Sweethearts blog, where author Heather Blanton addresses the practice of sanitizing historical fiction to make it polite, palatable, and politically correct for twenty-first century readers.

Without rehashing that whole post, I’ll note that I agree with Heather. Trying to clean up history to make ourselves comfortable is indeed dangerous. The more inaccurate we are about the past, then the more we misremember it, and as the saying goes, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

With that said, when it comes to race, culture, and history, it can be easy sometimes to paint over everything, or everyone, with too broad a brush. We can think to ourselves, “Well, yeah, people were prejudiced or just said ignorant things back then, but they couldn’t really help it. Where they came from, that’s just how it was.” So it’s good to keep in mind that while there may be a mainstream idea or habit within a society, there also tend to be people who don’t conform to the mainstream of their time. In the past (as it still happens in the present), not every person thought or behaved the same way as “everybody else.” Light and truth are constants, even in a period or place when light isn’t prevalent or the truth isn’t popular.

Nonetheless, when it comes to various areas of life, including writing about the past, there’s a difference between being politically correct and being culturally competent or sensitive. As an author, when it’s time to write about unsavory parts of history, and you don’t want to offend readers, it’s a great idea to check your motives. Are you trying not to be offensive because you genuinely care about the people concerned, or do you just want to prevent negative reactions from coming in your direction?

In his book, The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege, author Ken Wytsma highlights some good stuff about following the silver rule versus following the golden one. The main principle there can apply to political correctness and writing.

Political correctness can oftentimes adhere to the silver rule: “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want them to do unto you.” It can focus on trying not to do something, being polite at all costs in an attempt not to offend anyone. Being polite so as to avoid the trouble of backlash, whether or not the actual human beings you might hurt are your real or main concern.

In contrast, cultural competence applies the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Imagine yourself in the place of the person or culture you’re writing about, even if it’s only a minor character or a small aspect of the plot. Imagine yourself in the place of readers who are a part of that culture. Consider their triumphs and their plight, past and present. Consider how you’d feel if the people in your book weren’t “other people” but they were your own friends, your own family. Consider how you’d feel if the person in your book was you. What, then, would be your attitude as you approach telling that person’s story or depicting aspects of that person’s culture or lot in life?

Political correctness often comes from a place of fear, while cultural competence comes from a place of love.

Being a culturally competent author doesn’t mean you have to whitewash, misrepresent, or try to erase history. One of my all-time favorite examples of cultural competence in entertainment is a television show, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. In ways big and small, the show is historically accurate. It doesn’t shy away from depicting racism, injustice, and ignorance. It illustrates complex scenarios, brings substantive characters with room to grow or shift, and it relates powerful, relevant messages about love, acceptance, and justice without trying to ignore or erase the facts of the past.

When you’re a culturally competent author, it doesn’t mean you gloss over, sugarcoat, or tiptoe around uncomfortable social elements because you’re terrified of stepping on anyone’s toes. Rather, it means you’re active about finding ways to show love through your writing; to show that while ignorance did and does exist, it doesn’t mean it was or is okay, and that it’s possible and necessary for us to do better. There are different ways authors can convey this, whether they weave it into a plot, reflect it through a character, infuse it into a story’s overall tone, include a thoughtful word directly to readers before or after the story, or what have you.

On a related note, for authors who do or want to write competently about people of different races or cultures than their own, it’s smart to have a diverse circle. If everyone in your critiquing or publishing circle, or in your life, is pretty much the same as you are, then you may need to widen your circle. But that’s another topic to unpack.

Anyhow. A little consideration and/or creativity can go a long way in getting a message of light across in fiction, even when depicting flawed characters or regrettable portions of history.

You don’t have to write from a place of fear when you can write from a place of love.

 

Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

Christian Fiction That Doesn’t Mention Christ?

It’s something I’ve been pondering for years.

There seems to be a good number of readers who don’t consider a book to be Christian Fiction unless they see something explicitly Christian in it. Characters praying, studying their Bibles, learning from sermons in church, talking about God or coming to Jesus, etc. The basic idea is that if there’s no mention of Christ, then the book may tell a nice story, but it isn’t Christian.

I get it. And a lot of Christian novels that gave this (relatively young) genre its foundation were pretty overt about, well, preaching Jesus through fiction. Hence, I get it even more.

The way we’ve seen things done before frames our thinking about how things should be done. If we’ve seen Christ or Christian lifestyles represented in a certain way in ChristFic, and we approve of what we’ve seen, then we feel assured that that’s the way it “works.” So if we read a piece of fiction and don’t personally see “how it works” as a Christian book, we might feel iffy about it. That’s natural.

Yet, it’s no secret that the biblical book of Esther doesn’t mention God. (Notwithstanding the beautiful book cover here, I’m not referring to novels about Queen Esther but just the biblical book itself.) I’ve never heard a Christian say that Esther shouldn’t be in the Bible, or that the book isn’t reflective of the God Christians worship. Instead, I hear readers make comments to the effect of: “No, Esther doesn’t explicitly mention God, but we see evidence of Him in the book.”

Ah! Now we’re getting somewhere.

Yes, Christ preached sermons and such, but not every message of His came in the same form. Among other things, Christ was a storyteller, sometimes using fictional stories—parables—to convey truth, without explicitly mentioning God in the stories.

And I’ll bet some people felt iffy about His storytelling. “Um…nice little tale You told us, there. But we don’t see how it ‘works.’ ” Nonetheless, I’ve yet to hear a Christian say that Christ’s stories weren’t reflective of Him, that they didn’t represent God, or that His storytelling was to no avail just because not everyone picked up on the underlying points His stories made.

A story may not work for every single person, or it may not work for everyone in the same way, but that doesn’t mean the story doesn’t work.

I think an author’s intended audience matters. But even within that audience, different readers differ, or they may need different things from ChristFic at different times. For instance, I don’t want to feel as if every Christian novel I read is trying to “get me saved.” It might’ve been something I liked seeing in books more, back when I was younger, but that’s not where I am anymore. So ChristFic readers are fortunate that authors can write various kinds of Christian books for different purposes. Not all Christian Fiction may “work” in the same way, and yet it can all still be Christian Fiction.

Besides, no one book has to fulfill all the purposes of ChristFic by itself, if that would even be possible. Books in the genre work together to meet the different needs of readers. It’s like the biblical principle of how one plants, another waters, and God gives the increase. One book may simply plant a seed, another might just add some water, but both books help lead to an increase, if you will.

Now, I’ll admit I don’t always agree with every publisher’s choices about what they label or market as Christian Fiction. Moreover, sometimes retailers make technical mistakes and put certain books into the wrong categories or on the wrong bookshelves.

Still, if an author has deliberately chosen to call their work Christian Fiction, they’ve done so for a reason. If you say the genre is only for stories that quote scriptures or explicitly talk about coming to Jesus, going to church, etc., then you’re also saying there’s no place in the genre for stories like the ones Christ Himself told. Even if an author’s book may not “work” for one reader, it may be working just the way it’s supposed to for other people.

And there very well may be underlying evidence of God in the book for those who are meant to pick up on it.

 

Arts and Entertainment, Authors, Books, Fiction

Want Different Books? You May Have to Do Something Different

A few conversations among fellow Christian Fiction readers urged me to post this post. 🙂

Whenever someone asks ChristFic readers what we wish to find more of in the genre, or what we think is missing, I hear a good bunch of recurring answers in every conversation.

Many ChristFic readers want books that address more tough, real-life issues. We want flawed, relatable characters and plots with realistic outcomes. Romances that aren’t too fairytale-ish or cookie-cutter. Faith elements that go beyond trite religious platitudes or too-easy fixes. Etc., etc.

I agree with so many readers I hear from–including those who point out that a lot of the different ChristFic books and topics we say we want are, actually, already out there. Written, published, and waiting for us. We just haven’t found them all yet.

And, yes, many of the books we haven’t found or don’t hear as much about are indie: independently published. So they’re not being promoted by mainstream Christian publishers, and most of them aren’t showing up on bookstore shelves along with Christian books from “the big guys.”

On my part, I often say I’d like to see more diversity in Christian Fiction, and it makes me glad when I hear other readers say it as well. At the same time, there are many authors, myself included, who are already writing diverse books, but it can be hard to get our books seen by the right people. Or, in my experience, it seems it can be common for our books to be seen but passed over, even in a forum full of avid ChristFic readers.

I’ve been realizing that “different” books often require something different from us. An author has to step out of the norm and take a chance to write/publish/market something different, and a reader has to step out of the norm and take a chance to find/buy/read something different. If the usual ways we find books haven’t given us the kind of selection we want, we may have to go beyond our usual ways. We may have to tweak our habits.

For me, that means I need to be more watchful as a reader. It’s super easy for me to find mainstream ChristFic books like I’ve always read, especially in Christian bookstores or in the Christian Fiction sections of secular stores. But to find some different ChristFic books, it means I need to visit a different book blog now and then, or a different book group on social media, or take a chance on an author I haven’t previously read or heard of.

When it comes to websites like Facebook and Goodreads, and the blogs and blog topics I follow, it oftentimes means I have to “slow my scroll.” Instead of breezing past that less popular author or otherwise “unknown” book in order to jump to an author or publisher that’s more familiar to me, or to jump to the next big release that everybody’s talking about, I may have to slow down and take a closer look at something that I haven’t seen or heard a lot of buzz about.

And if I read and like a book, I’ve gotta tell somebody! Write a review, let other bookworms know what I’ve found, keep my eyes open for more books by that author, and all that. I do what I can to make “unknown” books more known, so that the authors have a reason to keep writing ’em.

This certainly doesn’t only apply to Christian Fiction. Anyone who wants to find different books may have to do something different, no matter the genre. ChristFic just happens to be a big area of bookish interest for me.

Fiction Finder is a great place to search for Christian Fiction by author or genre, or even by specific issues we face in life. Books from traditional publishers and independent authors alike can be found on the site. (And if you, dear author or publisher, haven’t listed your ChristFic books there, you can register to do so.)

Indie Christian Fiction Search is a good place to check out some indie ChristFic authors. I’d recommend using this site on a desktop computer for the best view/navigation.

I’m a part of a group called Clean Indie Reads. CIR authors specialize in Flinch-Free Fiction in a variety of genres, including ChristFic.

Diversity Between the Pages is a great place to discover and discuss diverse Christian Fiction.

This isn’t an exhaustive list of helpful sites, but if you want to find some different books, start looking in some different places and taking new chances!

(P.S.–Of course, you’re probably not going to be a fan of every new-to-you author or different book you take a chance on. But don’t make the mistake of prejudging all new-to-you authors or books by the one or two you didn’t like, and thus conclude that “taking a chance” didn’t work. Keep searching, and you’re bound to find gems you’ll enjoy.)