Every Book Has a Story
I had lunch recently with a group from my church and a visiting missionary. He was excited to hear that I work with InterVarsity Press (IVP), as many people are, because let's face it: we're an exciting place. He was particularly excited, however, because he used to live not far from the old IVP offices. Back in those days he didn't have a faith in God; he was, you might say, "searching for God knows what."
The old office predates me; the Press was a storefront in a suburban downtown area, with black paper covering the windows so that the chemicals being mixed to set type on page wouldn't degrade upon exposure to light. Back in the day the Press also published His magazine, and advertised the magazine on the papered-over windows of the office building. Legend has it that many of the town's residents saw the dark windows and the name His magazine, and thought we were a publisher of pornography. Oops.
Anyway, one day my new friend, in the throes of his quest for God knows what, walked into the IVP offices from the sidewalk, where he was met by a delightful receptionist and a display of the IVP booklets. Our booklets, you should know, serve a specific purpose. They're narrowly focused on a single topic treated at length from a Christian perspective. Over the years we've had booklets that critiqued the Restorationist movement, the New Age movement and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. We've had booklets that addressed issues such as homosexuality and date rape and loneliness. We've had evangelistic booklets and apologetic booklets and highly theological booklets. And on this particular day, the one booklet that particularly caught this particular guy's eye was titled Transcendental Meditation.
"Oh. That looks interesting. I've been thinking of trying out transcendental meditation."
Our receptionist, my friend tells me, virtually leaped over the counter and steered him toward something more appropriate, which is to say, something more evangelistic.
Now I should say that our booklet on transcendental meditation was not a how-to book but rather a Christian critique of the phenomenon, so it's probably fair to say that the IVP-TM booklet would have done my new friend some good. But if he had simply kept his thoughts to himself and bought the IVP-TM booklet from our receptionist without comment, you and I wouldn't be able to share a laugh over this story today.
They say that miscommunication makes for some of the best humor, and I think they're right--especially when the miscommunication takes place in the communication business. But beyond that, I think that this story characterizes what is true about most book buying--and religious book buying in particular. Every book has a story, as does every reader, and the mere transaction of reader and book can't capture all the complexity of either story. Behind the book is an author whose life has led him or her to write, and in particular to write that book. Behind the counter is a receptionist or a bookseller whose journey has led him or her to be the last personal encounter a reader has before entering into a particular book. And within a reader is an internal debate begging to be settled, an internal confusion longing to be cleared.
Not every book settles a debate or clears up confusion, of course, but every book has some circuit of relationships that it has ridden. It makes the communication business that much more personal, which makes it that much more meaningful.
Posted by Dave Zimmerman
at June 11, 2007 8:14 AM