In search of some Lenten devotional reading, my friend Bill Haley wandered into his local Christian store.
"Do you have Henri Nouwen's Show Me the Way?" he asked, referring to the late Catholic writer's collection of Lenten meditations.
"Oh no, dear," answered the clerk at the cash register. "He's dead. We don't carry books by dead authors."
Surprised, Bill pointed to a couple of books on a nearby shelf, squeezed in among dozens of titles on building a strong marriage and talking to your teenager. "What about C. S. Lewis? He's dead, and you carry his books."
"Well, that's true, but that's just because our marketing people say that C. S. Lewis sells well in this area. Most of our stores don't carry him either."
A policy against dead authors is reasonable enough. Dead people are unable to carry out what has become the most important responsibility of a contemporary author—to embark on the book tour, a whirlwind of personal appearances, radio interviews, and conferences, all designed to win readers and build the author's "brand." (Brand originally referred to painfully imposed identifying marks on cattle, which is about what authors feel like at the end of a book tour.)
The book tour is necessary because books, even by living authors, are something of an endangered species. The same Christian store that carries no dead authors, along with the rest of its corporate siblings, recently shortened its name from bookstore to store. The majority of its revenue comes from the sale of trinkets, gifts, and depictions of a pastel-hued fairyland of horse-drawn carriages and lanterns at dusk that could be described as an ...1