Books are Beast!


“A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors.”

Henry Ward Beecher, Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit

How is that I am getting paid to read?  That’s the question that has sung itself through my thoughts in these last few weeks as I’ve begun my job as managing editor for trade books for MennoMedia/Herald Press.  After a few short weeks of training with Byron Rempel-Burkholder, my predecessor in this role who offered patient and helpful guidance as I learned the job, I am on my own.

My new job involves a lot more than reading, of course. It involves helping authors communicate their thoughts in the most clear and accessible ways. It involves weighing in on whether a book proposal has enough merit to warrant its author being issued a contract, and managing publication schedules, and writing back cover copy, and hiring copyeditors. It involves staying abreast of conditions in book publishing and market trends, and listening in on conversations that Anabaptists and others are having, and dreaming up book ideas that will challenge and nurture the faith of Mennonites and others. Oh, and it involves sending—and receiving—a lot of emails!

But through it all, my days at work mean reading, reading, and more reading: which, apart from spending time with my family and friends and perhaps birdwatching, is pretty much my favorite thing to do. I feel incredibly privileged to have a job in which I get to do my favorite thing all day long.

Because not only do I get to read and edit books that entertain or inform readers. I get to work with books that matter—books that we at MennoMedia believe take part in the expansion of God’s reign in the world. I get to work with books like our brand-new title, For God and Country (In That Order) by Logan Mehl-Laituri, which helps Christians sort out this complicated and ever-timely question about loyalty to God and nation.

I get to work on projects like revising and updating Extending the Table by Joetta Handrich Schlabach, the second cookbook in the World Community Cookbook series that was first published in 1991 and that will be released in June 2014 (see this post and this one for more news about the re-release).

I have the opportunity to work with Jacob’s Choice, the forthcoming adventure- and romance-filled historical novel by Ervin R. Stutzman, based on the story of Amishman Jacob Hostetler, which includes the harrowing account of one man’s choice to respond peacefully to violence (February 2014).

And I get to shepherd toward publication Ordinary Miracles: Awakening to the Holy Work of Parenting, by Rachel S. Gerber, an honest and humorous memoir of parenting that will help readers find God in the sometimes whirling chaos of life with young children.

I studied theories of reading in graduate school, and I have written a book about readers and reading. Despite the dire news about the death of the book and the admittedly unstable state of the publishing industry, everything I’ve learned suggests that the act of reading is far from the morgue. Books are indeed changing, how we read them is changing, and the ways we acquire them and market them as publishers are changing, too.

But whenever I see my twelve-year-old lying in bed with a new novel, or glimpse my ten-year-old sprawled on the couch with a book about sports heroes, or have my eight-year-old carry a new library book over for me to read to him, I remember that books are still beast. Not beastly, but beast: that’s “cool,” or “neat,” or “awesome,” for those of you without middle-schoolers in the house.

So no matter what you hear about the state of reading these days, know that we at MennoMedia remain committed to providing you with books and curriculum and content that matter in our warring and desperate world. We pray that the books that we publish will bring honor to God and challenge all of us toward more faithful discipleship to Christ. Let us know what you are reading, and what kinds of books you want to read more of. What books do Anabaptist Christians and others inside and outside of churches today need? What kind of reading material will nurture you as you live out your faith? I’m still learning to know my colleagues, but one thing I know for certain: we all love to talk about books. So let us know. You can email me at ValerieWZ@MennoMedia.org or leave any of us a comment on this blog.

A book is “a garden, an orchard, a storehouse,” wrote Henry Ward Beecher. In a younger generation’s lingo, books are beast. No matter how you put it, what lovelier place is there to spend one’s time?

ValerieWeaverZercher Valerie Weaver-Zercher began as managing editor of trade books for Herald Press in September. She and her family live in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and she is a member of Slate Hill Mennonite Church.

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