Saturday, December 06, 2008

Faith 'n Fiction Saturdays Belonging Edition

I love Amy's question this week. (And that isn't a veiled insult by the way. I've enjoyed participating in each question!)

Today's question is inspired by a conversation Lilly started over at Book Blogs. What do you think about labeling books as Christian fiction? As you know, the range of spiritual content in Christian books varies tremendously. Some books barely even mention God while others use a lot of Scripture. Do you think Christian fiction books should be in a separate section of the bookstore or library? Do you think this limits who might read these books? Do you have any idea of how they could be arranged differently? And a little off topic but do you have a preference about whether or not books have a lot of spiritual content or only a little?

My answer:

When it comes down to it...books are books...and labels can be a good thing and a bad thing. There are pros and cons to books wearing labels. On the one hand, it makes them identifiable. When a book is labeled this or that, then those specifically looking for this can easily find it. On the other hand, it can be limiting. A person may be reluctant to read books of a certain label or category. I'm sure there are good Christian books out there that could be easily read and enjoyed by others...but in all likelihood won't be....simply because they're wearing the label "Christian." (Same can be true of YA books. There are adults who feel so opposed to "children's" or "YA" books that no matter how wonderful, how awesome, how great they are...won't be read by adults who are too snobbish to know what is good for them.) Labels in some ways equal expectations or stereotypes. Labels of genre for example. Labels for audience. Whatever. If a person gets a notion that all Christian books are dinky OR that all YA books are shallow and feature boy-crazy heroines...then it can be hard to convince them otherwise. It is always easier to generalize and assume than to do your research and get experience. Funny how judgmental people are usually the ones that have barely even sampled what they're criticizing.

Should they be shelved separately? Yes and no. In the library, I think they should not be shelved separately. I don't know why I make that distinction. Maybe it's because I'm hoping that people will be browsing the shelves at the library and more likely to be open minded. Rarely do I ever stop to check a publisher to see if it's "Christian" before putting it in my bag. Though I can see how it might be more convenient if they were shelved all together. (I can also imagine how confusing it might be to keep them separate when it came to filing books back.) My mom tries to read only Christian books. But she's a big browser too. So separating shelving might be convenient for her. Probably would make her life easier. And some libraries--many libraries--do have separate sections for paperback genre categories--mysteries, horror, sci/fi and fantasy, romance. So in a way it wouldn't be that much of a stretch. But if they were shelved separately, it would limit the audience in a way. Some might be hesitant to seek it out extra-special or something. I don't know. But in bookstores, I think it makes a little more sense. Because bookstores are more rushed experiences. Because you're looking with the intent to buy. Because you want to know what you're getting before you buy. You don't want to have any accidents or be surprised by what you find between the covers.

I think some books equally belong in both general fiction (and/or women's fiction) while belonging in Christian fiction. Others clearly belong to only Christian fiction--they just don't have broad enough appeal or dynamic enough characters or thrilling enough plots for the masses at large.

As for the last part of the question...I think whatever the content it should feel natural, authentic, genuine. Some books lend themselves to greater amounts of spirituality/sermonizing than others. Sometimes too much can take away from the book.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


Anonymous said...

Great Answers Becky. Totally agree with you.

Nise' said...

There are pros and cons for each side. I was one of those "adults who are too snobbish to know what is good for them" re YA books. Am I glad I have seen the light! There are some great books in the YA section!!

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you Becky. There are pros and cons for both sides and it's hard to choose which one side is best. Being labeled in a store or library is great because I can find what I'm looking for but not necessarily good for someone who has never or thinks they never will read Christian fiction because of the label. So I can totally see both sides.

Anonymous said...

I liked what you said Becky. I wish that bookstores would consider placing books in more than one section if they thought they might appeal to more than one audience. I could see many Christian fiction books being in the Christian fiction section and in the general fiction section. I think Christy by Catherine Marshall is the perfect example of a book that would fit in both sections. I also think many young adult books that could placed both in that section and in the adult section.

I am also continuously amazed by the distinction between the children's and young adult sections. Many books could easily belong in both sections but when just one section is chosen, I often don't understand what the reasoning is.

Anonymous said...

Loved the not black and white shades of gray answer, Becky. True dat!

My answer is up at:

Pam said...

I agree that some books will never be read because by some people because they are in the Christian fiction section. Our library just lumps all fiction books together.

SmilingSally said...

I agree with everything up to "Others clearly belong to only Christian fiction--they just don't have broad enough appeal or dynamic enough characters or thrilling enough plots for the masses at large." That sounds like Christian Fiction = pablum. Ewwww. I'm sure you didn't mean THAT.

Becky said...

No, I didn't mean that exactly. I enjoy some Christian fiction. But there are dinky books that just aren't that enjoyable, aren't that good. And if someone were to define the whole genre by one or two dinky books, well you see what I'm saying...there are books you'd want to hold up as good examples...and then others you really wouldn't recommend.

Sunny said...

I agree that it's hard to label...and where do you stop?

I think it's good to mix them in libraries and if someone gets a Christian fiction book they might be more ok with it since they didnt spend money...and might also find they really liked it.

You're so right that some CF can go GM but some really cant. Great post!

Amy said...

All very well put as usual Becky. You got to the heart of it with the problem of labels. Also well said about YA having the same problem. :)