Hearts & Minds BookNotes

annotations, blurbs and ruminations

to enlarge the heart & stimulate the mind

and to happily generate mail order business for Hearts & Minds bookstore

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Location: Dallastown, PA

My lovely wife Beth and I own and operate--proprietors makes us sound more classy than we really are--a cluttered, diverse and independent bookstore in Central Pennsylvania. After well over 20 years, we are still not sure what to say when people ask if our shop is a "Christian bookstore." I do a monthly book review column over at our website; we hope that these new blogged bits will afford friends and customers the chance to see other books I happen to be reading, wishing to read, pretending that I read or at least believe that others should, if not read, know about. We have three children, attend a Presbyterian church in York, PA and have no hobbies.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The sighs and joys of selling Harry Potter

I suppose a few of my few blog readers might want to know this, although, who knows, maybe you tire of it as I do: we have had as many negative comments about our stocking Harry Potter as we have appreciative ones. I’ve been quoted in local papers and in the national press---was it Christianity Today, perhaps, I forget---a few years ago about being thrilled with these wonderfully written books about virtue and kindness, loyalty and victory over darkness and how a thorough-going Christian worldview permits reading such novels. We thought maybe with each passing year, the Christian opposition would subside. And we would have been wrong.

Of course, Christians we know and like are reading them (alas, only a very few have bought them from us.) But some of those who don’t like seeing them on our counter have bluntly told us so; a few other good-hearted souls have kindly expressed legitimate concern but have heard us out. I needn’t review the whole long debate here, I suppose. Just know we are happy to sell fiction, some of us (although not me, actually) here are fond of fantasy, and, despite our serious attempts at holding up the importance of Christian holiness and nonconformity to the ways of the world (Romans 12:1 and 2, you know) we find Harry just not all that scary to fuss about. As always, the call is to be “in the world but not of it.” We take a cue from I Timothy 4:1-5 (oh, sweet irony, eh?) and celebrate the good things in God’s creation.

We are not cavalier about witchcraft or evil; not at all. We would not sell books that minimize these things knowingly. We just don’t think Potter is occultic. For one good study of this, check out The Gospel According to Harry Potter by Connie Neal. Or, the important book by John Granger (Looking for God In Harry Potter), who shows that there are some telling echoes and hints of Lewis in Rowling.

There isn’t an exact parallel here, but a story comes to mind about U2. In their zany, hyper-ironic Zooropa tour days, Bono would dress like a schiester devil character—with layers and layers of meaning and irony and deconstruction. He sometimes would draw a fan up on stage to dance with this devilish persona. Alas, one time a gal chastised him in his ear as they danced before tens of thousands. “You shouldn’t be dressed like the devil,” she scolded him, “you used to be a Christian band.” Lewis, he told her. “You can’t understand a thing we are doing if you haven’t read The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.”

Which not only reminds us to think broadly about Potter but to root our 21st century sensabilities about fantasy (and this little controversy, if it has hit your circles) in the tradition of the formative work of Lewis and Tolkein. And, to continue to think about (and listen to) U2, again, in light of their significant Christian influences. Do you know that Walk On: The Spiritual Journey of U2 by Steve Stockman is now out in a nicely expanded, new edition? (Click here to learn more about it, but do come back!) And did you know my best friend Ken Heffner (who works at Calvin College) has an impressive blurb on the book endorsing Mr. Steve Stockman’s qualifications for writing this book? Way to go Ken. (And, that Tim Bogertman, big-time Hearts & Minds cheerleader at Messiah College, is also thanked in the preface.) Now, if we can just get the book into the hands of U2 fans who may not yet fully understand their work in light of Christian faith.

We stocked U2 since the month we opened, 23 years ago. And some customers have been critical. We’ve stocked all the Harry Potter books, and, again, the criticisms, while not devastating, have buzzed around like pests in summer. They tend to be demoralizing.

So we rejoice for the gift of authors like Connie Neal and Steve Stockman, who give good, accessible introductions on these themes for those who need to have their dots well-connected. We are glad for the work of the Spirit in these expressions of common grace in popular culture, and glad to be in a line of work that allows us to talk about this stuff day by day by day.

And hey, if you don’t believe me about Potter, just read the big fat things. My wife and daughter assure me you’ll love 'em. And, regarding U2, even if you don’t like rock music (and who reading this blog doesn’t) order from us ASAP the wonderful collection of sermons inspired by U2 lyrics. Real sermons inspired by real U2 songs. Brian Walsh (who co-wrote Colossians Remixed that I raved about at the website column in November) has two splendid chapters, importan, even, as they exegete the songs so well, and more so because they open up the Bible so well. And Steve Garber has two really marvelous chapters, again, faithful to Word and world, strong and beautifully written. That book is called Get Up Off Your Knees: Preaching Through the U2 Catalogue edited by Raeawynne Whiteley and Beth Maynard (published by Cowley.) Give us a call if you want it.