Even though this topic could be applicable to just about any type of book, we’ll be looking at those in the Christian publishing category today.
Categorizing books has been part of publishing for a very long time. Officially, there are over four dozen primary book categories designated by the BISAC coding system, which spin off to thousands of subcategories. For example, one of the primary categories is Mathematics, which has over 50 subcategories beneath it. Some primary categories have many more subcategories.
Physical bookstores generally use only the primary categories for shelving books. Public libraries have their own system, but still use a smaller number of categories than exist in BISAC.
For certain, it’s complicated.
To make this simpler for my convenience, every book published in the Christian market should be categorized into one of two categories:
For the sake of this post, I am not going overly deep into the exegesis of the words “food” and “medicine.” Yes, nourishing, healthy food is good medicine. But for today, keeping it on more of a surface level will be the extent of my analysis.
The Bible is both food and medicine. Only an all-knowing creator could combine the two perfectly. Food and medicine books have long been part of the Christian publishing landscape.
Food books are the inspiring, informative, encouraging, eye-opening, awe-inspiring type of books, in all categories. After reading, you are satisfied, joyful, uplifted, encouraged, and energized. Food books are messages from a good Father to His children, whom He loves.
Medicine books are convicting, motivating, change-making, emotion-draining, and challenging. After reading, you might be overwhelmed; but you know being stretched is a pathway to growth and change, which God desires for all His children.
However, if you aren’t careful, food books can become simplistic, fast-food that doesn’t do much except tickle the ears (or tastebuds); and the medicine-books can be harsh, unpleasant exercises, which few people read and take to heart.
Inside publishing, a common statement places a proposal for a medicine book in the “Castor Oil for the Christian Soul” brand. Sure, they are good for you; but they don’t taste very good, and the actual medicinal value is questionable. “Read this; you need it and it’s good for you, whether you like it or not.” (I am not going to go down the route using “chicken soup” here because I promised I wouldn’t mix these categories.)
As Christian writers, you reflect the heart of God to His children and those made in His image. He is a good Father. This is for every type of Christian book, including fiction and books for children.
In your food books, make them a balanced meal of God’s heart. In your medicine books, combine God’s desire for His children to grow in their faith and life, without placing overly heavy yokes around their necks, thus exasperating them, as if from a stern, angry father.
Yes, this is hard. And it is why writing Christian books takes time, as authors take great care to accurately reflect the heart of God in what they do.
The first thing that came to mind on seeing the title of this post was Erasmus’ famous quote: ‘When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.’
Anyway, now go from the sublime to the mundane…
There are some authors who’ve written the occasional work that’s so soul-destroyingly nihilistic that you have to use their other, brighter works as medicine.
An example, for me, is Neville Shute’s ‘On The Beach’; it’s a book I read but once, and his skill was such that it planted despair in my heart, the echo of which I can still hear.
As remedy I went back to read ‘Round The Bend’, which has always given hope. It was only Shute’s inimitable style that could clear the literary pallette.
The effect was of course not deliberate; that would be the work of a madman, but how might said nutcase frame this as a marketing campaign?
I’ve writ a set of lovely tomes;
and think that you should buy it
to put some meat upon your bones;
it’s called The Junque Food Diet.
Note the highfalutin’ way
that ‘junk’ was been spelled,
a crafty and subliminal play
like a cow that’s belled
to lead you down a certain path
to my water tank,
while I saddle up and laugh
my way unto the banque,
and I’ve more books you’ll be gittin’
to heal you of that which I’ve written.
Thanks for this post, Dan. Food for some serious thought.
Thank you for this post. It both challenges and affirms the book I’ve almost completed.
Dan, I agree on all the well made points. I agree that hope springs and as we know, hope never disappoints. Your parable simplifies the question; Is life is a filet Mignon or peanut butter sandwich?
It is neither! It is the taste buds of life that allow us to savor each and every day in the Lord.
Thank you for your wise counsel.
Wow. Thirty-six years in this business and I’ve never heard of this before. Thanks! So I’m thinking I’m probably writing a salad bar book. 👍👍
Insightful. Thank you!
I’ve never heard this before–it is well said, and eye-opening. I write historical fiction with Christian underpinnings and while it is mostly Food, I weave in the Medicine. I loved reading how you identified this truth about Christian literature. I would propose there might be a third category but am not sure we would call it Poison. I’m speaking of spiritual abuse, things that misquote, abuse and mislead unbelievers about the Lord. Thank you for writing your article!
We would have a wiser medical system if Christians would demand of the government at least one insurance company that backed naturopathy, homeopathy, and orthomolecular medicine, all superior to anything Big Pharma pushes on us. Basically, God made the body (including those of our pets!) to heal with whole foods, faster with concentrated, whole food supplements. Organic, of course! Mental health is dependent upon this, too, but is ignored. Our mental-health system is barbaric. The mind is in the brain; the brain is flesh. Duh!
Most problems come from something lacking in the diet. We are a bag of chemicals, which, I believe, God wants us to keep in balance. Drugs can’t cure that imbalance. Yes, the BIBLE is also a medical book, but how many ministers, priests, and pastors know that side of it? Alcoholism is a sugar problem. AA doesn’t tell members to get their minerals balanced, just as doctors educated by B.P. don’t tell diabetics to balance their mineral levels. Probably everyone who doesn’t take minerals is lacking them, because the land is worn out, but we are not educating young people to know what is required in our body for physical and mental health. I suggest you read “Death by Medicine” to get an idea of what has been going on with our medical system for far too long.
MJG, retired ombudsman,
author of many poems dealing with health and God
Thank you for this post. I’ve never looked at books in this way but you’ve created a perfect recipe.
Very tastefully written.
Eric and Elizabeth Soldahl
An excellent article, Dan.
We felt it such an important subject both physically and spiritually that both of our more recent books highlighted a lot of this information. My wife, Elizabeth, truly has embraced the message from the Word of God on the subject, writing about it in her book “Liz Lives” (Healed by God’s Word and Food)
A unique approach to an important topic. Thank you, Mr. Balow. Scripture instructs us to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4: 15). Truth without Love is legalism. Love without Truth is license. Balancing the two is Wisdom.