It works the same way with books, I think, particularly as it relates to the dulling of the evangelical artistic palate. Is it too much to say that Christian readers have a distinct taste for mediocrity? I know evangelicals take a lot of hits for poor artistic sensibilities, but maybe the critique is a cliche for a reason?
Is it a supply problem or a demand problem? I think it's both, which means the Christian publishing industry (and Christian retail in general, really) is in a vicious cycle of sorts. Publishers print what sells and until readers start buying substantive literature, publishers won't produce it. But if publishers aren't producing it in the first place, then readers don't even have the opportunity to buy it. So basically, Christian readers are consuming what's available because they don't perceive any other option (in the Christian bookstore, that is).
The unfortunate side effect of that, though, is that we are producing generations of Christians whose literary appetites are for junk food.
Quickly and surely, Christians have developed a different literary frequency. It's part of the larger culture, to be sure. It's certainly not limited to Christians. Our country has set its dial to King, Clancy, and Grisham. Not that there's anything really wrong (or even dumb) about those authors or others who fall into the wide swath of pop fiction. But folks programmed to receive only on those frequencies will likely miss the deeper, more insightful, more poetic messages of the classics. Or even contemporary literary novelists. Ever read a book by Don DeLillo? How about J.K. Rowling? I'd be willing to bet more of you have read authors like the latter than authors like the former.
Which is not to say anything negative about J.K. Rowling, or about pop fiction in general. I'm a fan of Stephen King myself. But when intelligent friends of mine say, for instance, that they have no taste for poetry, I get a little concerned. Not only does it mean we are lessening the chances of publication for future writers of intelligent and substantive literary Christian fiction, but it also means that we are losing touch with those who have gone before us. Because our senses have been dulled, we are unable to appreciate (and sometimes to even understand) what is written in the classics, including the classics of Christian fiction. (Yes, there are some.)
C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy was published only about sixty years ago. At the time, it was considered unabashed genre fiction -- science fiction, to be specific. These days, I'm afraid Lewis's Trilogy is felt by many too difficult, too thick, too confusing for modern readers.
Here's an excerpt from his That Hideous Strength, the passage that inspired this rant of mine:
But it did not matter: for all the fragments -- needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyed thoughts -- went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves. It was well that both men had some knowledge of poetry. The doubling, splitting, and recombining of thoughts which now went on in them would have been unendurable for one whom that art had not already instructed in the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled vision. For Ransom, whose study had been for many years in the realm of words, it was heavenly pleasure. He found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. All fact was broken, splashed into cataracts, caught, turned inside out, kneaded, slain, and reborn as meaning. For the lord of Meaning himself, the herald, the messenger, the slayer of Argus, was with them . . .Besides the sheer beauty of the composition here, I see also a peculiar prescience in these words. For most readers weaned today on what most genre fiction has to offer (which is usually what sells best), this passage (not to mention the entire book) would be completely confounding. You won't find "the very heart of language, the white-hot furnace of essential speech" in Left Behind; some clunky and cliched phrasing propped around cardboard characters, maybe, but certainly nothing that would benefit those with "some knowledge of poetry."
There is some hope, though. Browse through the featured fiction section of your local Target sometime and notice that it primarily consists of what one could consider literary works -- literary novels, historical mysteries, memoirs, essay collections, etc. And for all that the idolatrous therapeutic cult of Oprah has wrought, her book club selections were always well chosen. Her latest selection is Dickens. No chick lit or fiction lite for Oprah's readers. That's encouraging, I think.
If only these trends would carry over into Christian readership. If only these trends were pioneered by Christian readers!