I read Monday’s post carefully. And read the comments over and over. I want to ask our readers to consider another tack.
Kurt Vonnegut wrote a short-short story I read when I was a teenager, which greatly affected me, called “Harrison Bergeron.” Read the whole thing here.
What I read in ten minutes has stuck with me forever. It’s about a future society in which all talented or beautiful or otherwise exceptional people are deliberately handicapped: The best dancers must wear cumbersome weights, the most intelligent must have their thinking disrupted with electric shocks.
Some years ago when I had a monthly book review column for a Christian bookstore national publication called Release, I mourned the fact that there was so little high-quality CBA fiction to review. If novels didn’t offend people, and had a formulaic plot or genre markings, people snapped them up. But the world scoffed.
And scoffs. And some wouldn’t read them if they were on a desert island with nothing else to read.
I don’t pretend to know all the factors that led to that state of affairs. But Eric Wilson’s comments set me to thinking about why, and I thought of Harrison Bergeron. I wondered if this might be a factor that no one talks about, but which has an effect on the whole situation.
I’ll take it a bit further than Eric did in his post. Here’s how I see it:
In the beginning, Christian publishing as an industry bought and paid for a reputation for overall mediocrity in fiction that it is trying to dig itself out of. For years, bookstore patrons financed and encouraged this by continuing to buy innocuous books. Safe books. (I know some of the reasons why: We don’t cuss and we don’t chew, and we don’t read those books that do.)
Here’s the thing about trying to write books that aren’t innocuous. In a Christian culture that believes in the priesthood of all believers and the inherent equality of each person’s soul, those who want to dance in the desert and kiss the ceiling and take literary risks of style and content are often considered presumptuous. Hoity-toity. Even reckless.
And if they set their goals high and don’t reach them, others are afraid to fail too: a cautionary tale.
If you’re reading this NovelMatters blog, you are probably interested in upmarket fiction. The kind of writing that hopes to endure regardless of genre. What we admire and yearn for, to be used as examples in classrooms and instruction books of the future. More reach read than beach read. Writing that is so expert, so crafted, so winsome it can carry the aroma of Christ even as it convicts.
Enduring. Literature. Excellence. What we aim for; and no matter how spectacularly we miss, some are at least trying.
Oh, but aiming for those things implies judgment on other Christian writers, someone might say. Is it right to extinguish—or diminish-- the smoking wicks of safer books, those that do not wrench the soul?
What do you think about this? Two questions:
1) In our laudable attempts to affirm the gifts and efforts of all, could there be a Harrison Bergeron factor (HBF) affecting what we call Christian fiction?
2) And in a rapidly-changing industry atmosphere, what do you see will be the result of the collision of the HBF and self publishing?