by Dan Balow
I am taking a big risk here, knowing there are authors and avid book readers looking at this post.
Columbia University Press polled hundreds of editors, writers, booksellers, librarians, literary critics, and general readers in order to produce a list of the ten most boring books of all time among the great classics. The winners were:
- Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan
- Faust, Goethe
- Don Quixote, Cervantes
- Ivanhoe, Scott
- Silas Marner, Eliot
- Pamela, Richardson
- Life of Samuel Johnson, Boswell
- Faerie Queene, Spenser
- Paradise Lost, Milton
- Moby Dick, Melville
Now, before you throw our morally bankrupt society under the bus and yearn for the simpler days of yesteryear when all the children behaved, the women were strong and the men were hard working…you should probably know that this poll was conducted in 1950! If you are between the ages of 90 and 120 you should be ashamed of yourself.
Twenty years ago in 1993, Chicken Soup for the Soul was first published and launched a successful and still-active line of products under the brand. The line just sounds good…and good for you.
On the other hand, some books are like castor oil or cod-liver oil for the soul. My wife’s grandmother ate a tablespoon of Vicks Vaporub for a chest cold, which would cause most modern mothers to call the poison hotline if their child did that. This is why they put “for external use only” on the jar. (Sorry, I lose focus once in a while, so now back to our regularly scheduled blog).
Every publisher and agent have seen manuscripts that are strong medicine, but written in a manner that truly makes them feel like castor oil for the soul. As if the author is saying, “You will read this and you will like it because it is good for you”. Be careful of falling into that trap with your writing.
Sometimes when chicken soup is not enough, we need a dose of strong medicine, but it can be handled in a manner that makes it a little easier to take. I am not talking about Mary Poppins and her spoonful of sugar. I am talking about writing about tough issues and difficult problems with a sense of humility and grace… knowing that we are all sinners saved by Grace trying to help other sinners grow closer to God, sometimes by clearing away the junk that messes up our lives and gets in the way of growth. Not an easy or painless task.
Certainly the Bible is not candy-coated…it is gritty and real. It is sharper than a two-edged sword. But there are stories…wonderful soaring stories of great heroes and villains. There are parables and prophecies of amazing things yet to happen.
Always keep in mind that you earn the attention of readers. There are a lot of different things vying for their attention and you need to be that light in the darkness they desperately need. Don’t be boring.