Amidst all the public voices and rhetoric swirling around these days is a healthy focus on the need to make reading more a part of every life. From celebrities sponsoring reading campaigns to Amazon providing pre-loaded Kindles to schools in Africa through their Worldreader program, it is a good thing for sure. Illiteracy is not good for any society.
However, I asked a question in the title of this blog that is probably going to get me in hot water. After all, my job as a literary agent is to try to get more authors and books published.
Yes, it is possible to read too much.
I can see the headline now…”Literary agent urges people to read less. Kicked out of publishing industry”.
As long as I am in the deep-end of the pool, add this: Reading without discernment is worse than not reading at all.
There is nothing magical or wonderful about the simple act of reading, that is, reading anything for the sake of reading. This is in direct conflict with many literacy campaigners.
A couple years ago I attended a large international publishing conference in New York where it was announced that research confirmed that children today are reading more than ever, attributed to the growth of online content, smart phones, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts.
Everyone clapped and cheered at the news. “Hurray, children are reading more!”
Seriously? Reading anything is better than not reading?
Guess what, it is possible to spend time reading things that are downright evil and turn your mind and soul to mush.
Because I pay a lot of attention to things in and around the publishing world, I’ve heard things like this:
- At a publishing conference a couple years ago, I sat on a panel where a person from a large general market publisher explained how the “erotica” category has great long-term potential for them.
- The best-selling book Fifty Shades of Grey, described as “mommy porn” is extremely popular among teenagers.
- The mere suggestion that some books are not good for people to read is immediately flagged as censorship, the unpardonable sin in the general market publishing industry.
- A recent article in a prominent online publishing news service blamed Christian fundamentalism on its practitioners not being well-read. If that is the case, then it is logical the reverse is true, that a pagan hell-bound world- view is a result of a lot of reading. (I’m joking)
- There is a marketing campaign aimed at mega-readers to read 100 books per year. Some read 150 per year. There are some types of literature whose sales are maintained by a relatively small group of people who read all the time. (I assume to the exclusion of less-noble pursuits like friends, family, community and church!)
Mega-reading is not a godless obsession reserved for the unchurched among us.
I know someone who reads through the Bible several times a year, but can’t find the time to serve the church or other people.
I know a person who reads every Christian book they can and is about as messed up spiritually as you can get. If a double-minded person is unstable in all their ways, then being a quadruple-minded person is a walking freak-show.
Like so many other things we can do, reading can be used as an escape from reality. So again, reading for the sake of reading is not the answer.
It is not how much you read, it is what you read that is important. The same can be said about television, movies and any other media. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of them, but when they are consumed without discernment, they can be destructive. The best solution is not to avoid, but to use wise discernment in their use.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verse 8 we read, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (NLT)
The Christian artist (includes authors) and the church have always been good at redeeming the things of this world. Whatever is intended for evil can be turned for good.
Every Christian reader can and should engage in recommending good books that honor God to friends and family.
Be an active participant in this worthwhile campaign.
Great post. I absolutely agree. Daily, I’m concerned about the books I see in the hands of my students. There are plenty out there worse than Fifty Shades, and they are being passed among teens who supposedly attend church and participate in their youth groups.
What’s your suggestion to get more teens reading YA Christian fiction titles, and to choose those over the erotic ones?
Good question Monica. There are some YA Christian fiction titles, but not a lot. Christian fiction for adults would be generally good for teens…it has no language or situations that would make it inappropriate. You would still need to be sure to read about the title to see if the theme is appropriate, but comparatively, Christian fiction is pretty tame.
1. First, look for titles from Christian publishers. They all have standards that prohibit profanity and sexual situations.
2. Second, look for titles from certain authors and recommend those. The publisher is still important though. Some Christian authors will write for general trade publishers because they are given more latitude in use of language and situations.
3. Talk to a knowledgeable person at a Christian bookstore.
4. Look at Goodreads for recommendations. There is an area for Christian Fiction. http://www.goodreads.com/genre/christian-fiction
5. Go to http://www.christyawards.com for lists of some of the best titles by year.
Thank you, Dan! Discernment is a rare quality, much to be sought in this very messy world. Bless you for putting some sanity and direction into this conversation.
By the way, reading Facebook posts, twitter feeds, and text messages does very little to enhance literacy. All the rules of grammar which lead to precise communication are suspended in these venues.
I’m in total agreement. Lately I’m finding that the quality of some Christian authors who churn out mega-numbers of books is dismal in comparison to some of the self-published I come across. It distresses me how many I delete from my e-reader part way through, but I don’t have the time to waste finishing something that’s not written well, and has nothing to say.
I will, however, read a self-published that isn’t high quality writing, but does have something to say.
It’s a different world out there!
Good post, Dan. I’m always being told by my non-Christian friends that I’m too strict because I monitor what my children watch and read. I believe they need to read, watch, and play things without sex and violence. I want them to read and enjoy life, but they don’t have to glorify the “sin” in the world.
Kelly, if it makes you feel better, you’re not the only one who monitors. We feel strongly about being aware of what goes into our kids’ minds. 🙂
Dan, you bring up great points in your post. As a mom of boys who are addicted to reading, it’s a mixed bag. I’m thrilled they love to read, but their love for the written word discourages them from playing outside and even interacting with others at times. We work hard to balance out indoor time and outdoor time. 🙂
And, we’re trying to keep abreast of the books out there geared toward our boys. We want to be careful what they put into their minds.
My husband and I are careful what we watch and read as well. When I come across a good book, I definitely recommend it to others!
Morgan L. Busse
Excellent article. My son doesn’t understand why he doesn’t get to read the books his peers are reading. Some of them he is not ready for (like the Hunger Games) and some are just not appropriate no matter how old you are. Discernment is so important in what we read, we watch, we listen to, and even the games we play.
I do love finding a new series for both of us to read, discuss, and enjoy together.
Loved the title of your post!
Thanks, Dan, for keeping us on our toes. The issue my wife and I dealt with in raising our children was not so much what they read, but what music they listened to. Their justification for listening to trashy music was, “But some of the songs are positive.” My response was, “If you have to stand in sewage to hear something positive, maybe you should think twice about it.”
Not sure if they listened at the time, but today, many years later, I am thrilled that they all are quite discerning about what they listen to AND what they read.
Thanks for standing up and saying all this aloud. I couldn’t agree more. A few years ago, when I worked in an independent book store, there was a campaign to promote books that had been censored at one time or another. Some were classics. Others, not so much. I remember looking at the display and thinking some of them should have remained censored. Besides, with so many books and so little time, who has time to read folderal?
I’m hearing that children are now learning to read as early as three and four years old. This makes me cringe because the first thing that pops into my head is, “So now they can read billboard advertisements and magazine covers at the checkout line in the grocery store.”
But Dan, you hit on a key word: discernment. More than ever, discernment is needed from parents and teachers who guide children’s literacy development, and from every reader everywhere.
I’m a big fan of the “less is more” attitude, and an even bigger fan of this article. Thanks for posting this.
Good post, Dan. I always told my children and my students to be careful what they put into their brains. “Garbage in, garbage out.”
“You must chose. But chose wisely.” I thought of the ancient knight’s words from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade 🙂
As one who has been created with an very active imagination, I must be selective what I feed my mind. To translate: I am easily influenced. Both my child has been blessed in the same way so proofing what they put into the computer of their mind is a must.
Did anyone else get fired up about their writing from this post? Goodness me, I am pumped for the day! Let’s stay the course, friends.
Amen, to quote a song my children learned at summer camp, “Your mind is a computer whose input-output data you must choose.” Choose wisely.
“…reading can be used as an escape from reality.”
I personally thank God that this is true, Mr. Balow. You might not have needed to do it, but I have. I’ll gladly write for others who need the escape.
Nancy B. Kennedy
I struggle with applying Phil. 4:8 to writing and to reading. How can you appreciate the good if you don’t examine the evil? A good storyline can’t be all sweetness and light. I’ve learned most of what I know about effective writing from so-called secular books. I guess it’s all in the intent, as you say; what is intended as evil can be turned to good.
I’m a Christian fiction writer with a dilemma: I’m hoping to reach new agers with the gospel message, and don’t know how to market my book. If I try and reach teens-young adult Christians with my story, which needs to go into detail on hypnosis and reincarnation to explain where my main character’s deceptions lie – they may reject it for that reason; if I try and market directly to new age media, they get furious because, after reading over half-way through the book, they get introduced to Jesus Christ. (I am happy to report that co-workers and family that have read the book finished it, because they cared about the characters; some were rather peeved, though, even though the message is loving and is not preachy.) Does anyone have any suggestions? I’d sure appreciate your POV. Thanks!
Maybe the best way to market your book is to not concern yourself with reaching new agers, but empower people who love your book to carry that message to them. Sell two copies to anyone who wants to give it away to a friend.
Relationship evangelism is always the better way. You provide the tools, others build the house. Trying to reach all readers yourself is too difficult. Friends can multiply your efforts.
yep. I know I’m behind the power curve in commenting, but I agree with you. What we read makes a difference (anyone know what Hitler kept on his nightstand?) I have the Philippines 4:8 policy with reading: Whatever is good….think on these things AND finally it’s not what you read that makes a difference its what you re-read.