I accompanied my oldest son to some bookstores this week. Big bookstores. Filled to bursting with words and pages and more words and more pages. Pictures on covers calling out “Here, here, all the wisdom you need is right here. Just open me and all will be revealed to you.”
I write. I write novel-length fiction in my spare time. I have ten or fifteen completed and a few in progress. It’s just how I cope with the world, like knitting or quilting but with words. I graduated college with top honors for doing it, so I suspect I’m not terrible at it. But all I have to do is walk into a bookstore and my desire to publish a book evaporates. The chaos and noise of it all scares me a little bit.
My son was searching for The Art of War by Sun Tzu, so we spent time in both the philosophy and history sections. I was amazed. Philosophy is surrounded by new age, wicca, astrology, etc. Lots of etc. Three entire shelves were devoted to the Mayan calendar ending in 2012. Three. Entire. Shelves. All to tell us the world will end in a year. As though we couldn’t just wait a year and find out for ourselves.
Conspiracy theories are also in these sections. Lots and lots of them. And manifestos. The communist one, a few by liberal and conservative American politicians, and one about loners. (Okay, I actually want to read the loner manifesto.) Honestly, I’m not entirely sure what’s in a manifesto, but I guess it’s quite trendy to write one and put it on a shelf with dozens of others.
Then the history section. Most of them claim to have the truth of history, the real story you didn’t get in school, the stuff they don’t want you to know. Personally, I have very little faith in any history I’ve ever been taught, and I don’t expect to find it in those books, either. Public school history was propaganda–Indians were good, Europeans were bad, religion played no role, and we won wars because we’re awesome. Christian school history is almost as bad–all good leaders of America were devout evangelicals, and God loves America more than any other country in existence at the moment because all our good leaders were devout evangelicals.
Between the history and the philosophy were about a million Christian fiction books, which is largely what I like to write, except mine are usually a tad too secular for the Christian market and a tad too religious for the secular market. I imagined a book by me in the center of it all, and it seemed very small. Just a drop of water in an ocean of words.
So many voices. So much to say. And we listen and give writers such power. Words in print seem to be so honest, so true, so edifying. I once spent time with a group of young mothers, and instead of asking the older mothers for advice, they wanted the titles of books that could teach them to parent, because we all know books are written by experts who know better than we do. Or at least by lucky people who know someone in the publishing field. What happened to face to face living, to community, to sharing with live humans in the flesh and blood world? Why do we think books are so magical? And Chrisitians may be worse than most–how often are Bible studies based on books with a little Bible added in, instead of based on the Bible with the occasional book to illuminate meanings?
I love to write. I love to have my writing read by friends and family (click “Manuscripts” above and have a taste). I would love to be a published writer. Perhaps when my kids are grown I’ll even give it a serious try. But at the same time, I hate to add to the noise, to be another voice out there. I don’t know that any of us have that much to say, but we sure spend a lot of time saying it, and I struggle with the purpose of it, the meaning of it all.
Solomon pegged it in Ecclesiastes. He warned against empty words masquerading as wisdom. He warned that constant study wearied a person, that it’s possible to know too much and do too little. There is a Word that is true and dependable and good for training in righteousness, and the rest need to be taken with a grain of salt and given their rightful place.