As a member of the planning committee for the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin, I have the best committee work in the world: we read books. We are always flipping through Publisher’s Weekly, lurking around bookstores and websites, lugging piles of books between home and office, heaping up books on our nightstands. We are on the hunt for new writers doing beautiful work and engaging deeply with religious faith, and we keep track of established faith-relevant writers, too, endeavoring to coax them onto our roster when they’ve done something new and wonderful.
So, naturally I’m a big fan of great writing and always ready to champion the underselling author whose work deserves a wider audience. That is, in part, the purpose of Festival, a high and noble calling indeed.
But let’s admit the ugly truth throbbing like a bad tooth in a dark corner of every writer’s soul: we all want to write a bestseller.
I’m not talking about serious and deserving books that earn their honored place through merit and originality. Writing one of those is extremely difficult. No, I’m talking about a book-like product that can bring in some serious bacon, fast.
For those of us who do not have the patience or the giftedness required to write a really great book, and who are meanwhile examining our retirement account quarterly reports with mild dismay, it seems prudent to consider tossing artistic integrity aside and cranking out something that can sell.
Time for some crowd-sourcing, then. Here are my proposals for bestsellers I could write, maybe in a couple long weekends this winter. Let me know which one you’d be willing to purchase by the truckload for all your friends. Other suggestions welcome! I’ll give you a cut of the profits!
Fifty Shades of Grey: Bible Edition
I’m still a little unclear on what the original book is actually about, and from what I understand, I don’t want to know. When I first saw the title Fifty Shades of Grey (note the slightly pretentious –ey spelling), I thought it would be about a lady of a certain age, with the title referring to the hair color aisle at the pharmacy—a venue with which I am, shall we say, not unfamiliar. Then I heard the book was about sex. So maybe it was about a woman of a certain age and her romantic reawakening or something? Then I heard it was about a young woman who gets involved with … oh never mind. I’m guessing now that the title has something to do with moral ambiguity.
That I can work with. So Fifty Shades of Grey: Bible Edition will seem at first glance to be a novel based on all the most salacious parts of the Bible, of which there are, as we know, more than a few. Actually, however, my book will give a scholarly overview of difficult contemporary moral dilemmas about which the Bible does not provide blatant black-and-white answers (Chapter One: Just War Theory.) By the time people figure this out, they would already have pre-ordered with one-click purchasing on amazon. Too late!
The only drawback to this plan is that the Fifty Shades market is already getting crowded, what with the parodies, sex manuals, and at least one cookbook. Come to think of it, I don’t see a gardening spinoff out there yet. How about Fifty Shades of Green, about a young woman whose older, more experienced neighbor invites her into his greenhouse and teaches her a thing or two about perennials?
The Five Anxiety Languages
I actually liked The Five Love Languages quite a bit. My husband and I listened to the audio version on a recent car trip, and even after 25 years of marriage, we gained some insights and felt rather ooshy-squooshy about each other for a few days afterwards. Not a bad outcome.
The idea behind this book (in case you are not one of the zillion people who have read the book or its spinoffs) is that people communicate and receive love in different ways. We each have a “primary love language” which the author has narrowed down to touch, gifts, words, acts of service, or time. Couples have problems when they are not sending love signals to each other in the language their spouse “understands.”
So I was thinking: wouldn’t it be almost as useful to recognize how one’s spouse and other loved ones signal their anxieties and internal freak-outs? Having lived recently with three teenagers, I can attest that often enough annoying behaviors turn out to be signals of anxieties we are not expressing in more straightforward ways.
Here are the chapter headings I’m thinking of:
1. Cleaning. Common way to show work anxiety at the office or marital conflict at home. A favorite mode among women, rare among teenagers.
2. Avoidance. Very common among teenagers.
3. Griping. Increases in volume as people age. The primary anxiety language in churches.
4. Awfulizing. This involves spinning out horrible scenarios in the mind that have miniscule chances of actually occurring. Promoted cynically in politics.
5. Fidgeting. Not always a symptom of ADD!
True confession: I think I might “speak” all of these languages fluently.
Don’t Bother: Less is More on the Way to the Good Life
I’m trying to develop a counterpart to the bestselling Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead, a supposedly feminist manifesto encouraging women to pursue their ambitions without apology. That book has endured some criticism for its focus on elite, privileged women with mega ambitions in the business world.
Fine. I fully agree that women should compete and lead as they are called and gifted. But not all women are super-competitive achievers with leadership skills. Not all men are, either, of course. So maybe we need a manifesto to encourage those who wish, as a matter of principle, to opt out from the power game. Maybe this could appeal to the hipster crowd, with chapters on thrift-store shopping, organic gardening, and poetry jams. I bet I could get an endorsement from Wendell Berry, and maybe even the new Pope.
John Grisham-like novels about church life
Grisham is very good at what he does; I don’t mean to disparage his books. I’m listening to The Litigators these days, and it’s getting me through my workouts quite nicely. Grisham has skillfully covered all aspects of lawyer-world over the years, but someone has yet to give a similar treatment to church-world. It could be done: populate the novels with familiar church types, give them topical and current problems, lightly satirize the seamy underside of denominational politics while subtly championing the true and right. Grisham already has a book titled The Confession, so I would have to find other appropriate titles. No worries. There are plenty of possibilities.
The Worship Committee
And that’s just for starters.
So what do you think? Keep in mind that a bestseller needs plenty of space for spinoffs and tie-ins. I’ll need a slick website, merchandising, some way to “join the movement!”, and some lame excuse for hotel ballroom gigs that charge attendees upwards of $80 a ticket. And if you steal any of these ideas, I expect a cut of your profits. Remember, I’ve read Grisham and I know all about lawsuits.