Thursday, May 07, 2009

Let's All Open Our Books!

Yesterday I went to a meeting of the creative team of the magazine for which I write and edit. It's the second time we've met so far, and I really enjoy it. The magazine (which right now is available only in subscription, but hopefully soon will be on newsstands) is lovely. It's skewed toward age 50+, and our readership is predominantly women (because, let's face it--women read more magazines of any type, period), but we'd like to expand it too.

The gist of the magazine is that it should be fun and inspirational and spark Baby Boomers to live significantly, live their lives to the fullest. That's our basic mission--it's also a Christian magazine, so of course the Christian faith is interwoven throughout.

I will confess something to my blog readers--working on this magazine is fun, but it also stretches me. Honestly? I'm not all that creative. I mean, I love beautiful things, I love the arts, but as far as being creative within myself, not so much. Probably because I'm in way too much of a big hurry all the time. Also, I have sort of a dark side. I got my undergraduate degree in Urban Missions--so you definitely see a lot of dark stuff there--and my graduate degree in Modern British Literature (you see how those two go together? Yeah, me neither.) If you've read a lot of modern British literature and poetry, you probably know it's not too upbeat. I pretty much like books that end, "...and his soul was shattered. Then he died, leaving chaos and devastation in his wake."

I mean, here's an example of a poem I love (by Stevie Smith, 1957)

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him
his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Isn't that GREAT? And don't even get me started on Philip Larkin, poems that I will not post here because this is a family blog.

Anyway, like I was saying, the magazine stretches me, and it's a good thing. My assignment for the new issue is to write the summer fiction piece. Basically, I'm getting paid to read a bunch of books and recommend them. Pinch me, I must be dreaming.

Yesterday at the meeting, the managing editor, Peg, stuffed my book bag full of complimentary copies of books to read. I can choose six books I like (and they can be anything--they don't have to be what she's given me), and write my piece.

Now seeing as this is a Christian magazine, it's Christian fiction. I will tell you--I am notoriously hard on Christian fiction. It's mostly too gimmicky or cringe-worthy or slots neatly into genres I hate (end-of-the-world scenarios! prairie romances! chick lit!) So much of it is derivative and then shoves the Christian faith into it in a really clunky way. Oh, and it's just badly written. So there you go.

I just don't see why Christians have to pump out some inferior product. Also, I love to read books from the point of view of other faiths, so I think Christian books should at least be something that someone who isn't a Christian might actually be interested in picking up.

All that being said, let's see what good Christian fiction books I can find this summer. For the magazine, I'm supposed to give only positive reviews because, you know, we want people to actually read the books. And like I said, fortunately, I get to pick whatever books I want, so I'm only going to pick books I like (though I also have to pick books whose covers coordinate).

Here's one Peg gave me that I read last night:

The Missionary, by William Carmichael & David Lambert, published by Moody Press, March 2009.

Here's the publisher's blurb on the plot:

David Eller is an American missionary in Venezuela, married to missionary nurse Christie. Together they rescue homeless children in Caracas. But for David, that isn’t enough. The supply of homeless children is endless because of massive poverty and the oppressive policies of the Venezuelan government, led by the Hugo Chavez-like Armando Guzman. In a moment of anger, David publicly rails against the government, unaware that someone dangerous might be listening—a revolutionary looking for recruits. David falls into an unimaginable nightmare of espionage, ending in a desperate, life-or-death gamble to flee the country with his wife and son, with all the resources of a corrupt dictatorship at their heels.

This is not normally my type of book, since it's an action-thriller, but I did enjoy it. The characters of David and Christie are well-drawn. They are young missionaries with different reactions to their work. Christie is a nurse who believes that the care of each individual child who crosses her path has meaning and significance. David is a frustrated visionary who sees the streets of Caracas, teeming with children who need help but can't get it. One of his favorite missionary quotes is from C.T. Studd "Some people wish to live within the sound of a chapel bell. I wish to run a mission a yard from the gate of hell."

Unfortunately, David's vision leads him to believe that if the political structure in Venezuela were different, more children could be helped. This is the key piece of interest to me in the book, and makes me proud of Moody for publishing it. Too many Christians believe that morality can be legislated through government reform (and by the way, Moody as an organization has taken a strong stand against this in the past also. God bless the school that D.L. Moody founded. I'm just sayin'. Represent!).

David is presented as well-meaning but naive, and ultimately, very foolish. His seemingly small political actions place him and his family in great danger. Here's where the action heats up, and there are chases and guns and stuff, so if you're into those kinds of things, you'll really like this.

What I liked about this book was that it wasn't just a cheesy, action thriller. One thing I hate about Christian fiction is that obviously it's not going to have profanity, so then the authors substitute "darn" and "crud" etc.--as if Colombian drug runners and CIA agents would actually talk like that. These authors wisely skirted that whole issue by eliminating that entirely--hello, whaddya know, solution to the problem right there. They also had obviously done some comprehensive research on political structure in South America. The violence was realistic but not overly graphic. The writing is taut, and as the reader, I really cared about what happens to this missionary couple. I particularly liked Christie--she is written as a strong woman of faith and principles, and she has an interesting backstory that sheds light on her character.

What I wished the authors had done more of was examine their original premise--that of mixing missionary work and politics. The first half of the book does that, but the second half gives way to the action piece, and the original introspection of the characters is kind of abandoned.

Overall though, I would recommend The Missionary as a good summer read.

So, stay tuned for more books! And if it all gets too upbeat for you, just let me know 'cause have I got some great recommendations for all of you here on the dark side with me, too.


picturingme said...

What an awesome job for you! Talk about using your talents ...fantastic!

Jill said...

What other books did she give you?

Alice said...

Jill--she gave me such a huge stack; the book bag was stuffed. I hadn't heard of any of them! I'll review some more on here, and I can send you an email of some of the other titles. Some I just put right back in the bag because the women had prairie dresses on. :-) But if that's somebody's favorite kind of books, I'd be happy to give out those titles too!

Ann-Marie said...

I'm SO happy you have this amazing opportunity. After all, you're one of MY favorite writers. I share your view on Christian fic, so I'll be glad to get some reviews. And as I AM an action-adventure gal, The Missionary sounds great. Can I borrow it?

And hoo-rah to Moody! Right back atcha!

Kacie said...

Modern British lit? That really intrigues me. What are some of your favs? And also - where'd you get your MA? I am constantly torn between my desire to be a licensed counselor and my desire to study literature more! I do love it.

Do you love Russian lit? That stuff is definitely dark.

And ... I may not be 50+, but I would totally read a cynics perspective on Christian lit in a magazine! I loved your review. I'm currently reading Walk Back the Cat and am almost at the end, and I believe it is going to side on the perspective of faith, with a bit of a Catholic twist. It's very different reading than evangelical novels.

Alice said...

Kacie--some of my favs are Graham Greene, E. M. Forster, James Joyce, Rumer Godden, Virginia Woolf. I love the poets--Yeats, Auden, Eliot...I could go on! I got my master's at DePaul University. It was one of the happiest times in my life--just reading and writing and learning about novels and poetry with some of the greatest teachers I've ever had. I haven't read a lot of the Russians because I spend most of my time with the British. :-) I have read a bit though...

We sound a lot alike, actually, what with the loving books and wanting to help people! :-)

Danny Lucas said...

So men don't read.....

I read, just as you, preferring nonfiction over fiction, especially in regard to Christ.

He described Himself as Truth, so why should I meander a path of less resistance, like a stream cutting soft soil and read fiction?

Frederich Buechner lived near a friend of mine, in Vermont. My friend suggested I read Buechner's fiction.

I chose Buechner's nonfiction instead, and my life has been all the more grand as a result.

But if the magazine I subscribed to, paid for three years worth, and never get anything but more bills to read from them since, insists on nonfiction....
then I will give you a taste of ONE of Buechner's novels.

Out of this fiction, "Brendan" by Frederich Buechner, we come to understand ourselves, and others simultaneously.

My favorite blurb came from my Vermont friend, a neighbor to the author.

"For the first time we saw Gildas wanted one leg. It was gone from the knee joint down. He was hopping side-ways to reach for his stick in the corner when he lost his balance. He would have fallen in a heap if Brendan hadn't lept forward and caught him.

"I'm as crippled as this dark world," Gildas said.

"If it comes to that, which one of us isn't, my dear?" Brendan said.

Gildas with but one leg. Brendan sure he'd misspent his whole life entirely. Me, [that writes his story], having left my wife to follow him and buried our only boy. The truth of what Brendan said stopped all our mouths. We was cripples all of us.

For a moment or two, there was no sound but the bees.

"To lend each other a hand when we're falling," said Brendan, "perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end."

Alice said...

Oh no, I don't think men don't read! My dad and brother are both voracious readers. It just seems that men are less likely to pick up magazines--and our readership is 82% women.

The magazine wants to recommend some quality Christian fiction (because people often associate more lighthearted reading w/ summer) to readers.

And I've got two issues of the magazine to send to you, Danny! :-)