Have You Read A Good Book–Lately?

British communications mogul Robert Maxwell died at sea recently, leaving behind a huge communications and entertainment conglomerate called Maxwell Communications. It's one of a handful of mega-companies that are taking over the book industry. And that are changing the kind of books Americans read. These huge companies produce not just books but also movies, magazines, TV shows, records, videos. To them, a book is just raw material to be turned into movies and TV miniseries. In other words, a book isn't a work of art, it's a commercial commodity. Eavesdrop on a meeting of book publishers, says Roger Cohen in the New York Times, and they sound more like auto executives than purveyors of literature. They discuss what they call a book's "velocity." They talk about "revving up the sales force." They plan how to "put an author on the road" to plug the book on talk shows. What you don't hear is any discussion about whether the book is really good. Whether it has literary merit. Whether its ideas are edifying to the public. In fact, the goal is to create a best-seller before anyone has a chance even to ask those questions. Here's how it's done. Even before a book is off the press, the company builds up a drum roll of publicity and hype. It runs a carefully orchestrated campaign of news leaks, TV talk show appearances, magazine excerpts. Stores place huge orders for advance copies. This way, sales are hooked even before the book hits the shelves--before people have a chance to read it and judge it on its merits. Books made this way aren't much different from supermarket tabloids. Celebrity books by people like Wilt Chamberlain, boasting about their sexual exploits. Books of New Age techniques for self-affirmation. "Quickie" books riddled with errors, like ones on the Gulf War that appeared only weeks after the war ended. Books have become just another form of entertainment. Oh, there are a few independent publishers still devoted to great literature and great ideas. But they are rapidly being crowded out of the market. Christians ought to be dismayed at the decline of the book industry. We of all people know the power of the written word--because that is the means God has chosen to convey His message. Through the Bible, of course, but also through good literature. Outstanding Christians like C.S. Lewis and Soviet poet Irina Ratushinskaya came to faith by reading books by Christian authors, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, who weave a biblical world view into their literary works. Besides, it is through books that a culture's great ideas are preserved and transmitted from one generation to the next--the ideas that form a society's common vision and direction. Today we are in danger of losing the guiding concepts of Western culture. Most of the books produced for popular consumption have little literary or intellectual merit. When people read this kitsch they are desensitized, cut off from the great ideas that have inspired our civilization. The entertainment conglomerates are selling out America's artistic and literary heritage. We who know the power of the word ought to stand against the trend. Let's cultivate our tastes for good literature, and teach our children to do so as well. Because good literature has the power to change people's thinking, and change people's lives.


Chuck Colson


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