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Updated: 2005-06-23 10:58

Christian books test boundaries as sales surge

美国基督教图书销量激增 出版商试探分水岭

Christian books test boundaries as sales surge
Histories, self-help, children's books and psychological studies are all sold at the Alba House, a Christian bookstore in New York City June 20, 2005. (reuters)

Christian girls just want to have fun too, and the U.S. publishing industry is working overtime to cater to a growing demand for good , clean fun.

Sales of religious books are booming, and the category has much more to offer than just bibles and prayer books.

From Christian chick lit to frank discussions of sexuality and how to avoid temptation, the shelves of both Christian bookstores and secular chains offer a variety of wholesome reading that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

According to the Book Industry Study Group, which uses data from all sectors of the industry, total U.S. book sales rose 2.8 percent in 2004 to $28.6 billion, while religious books saw 11 percent growth to nearly $2 billion.

Calculating exact sales is difficult, however, and the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association says sales of its members' books is an annual $2.38 billion.

Much of the growth is from books like Rick Warren's "The Purpose-Driven Life," the top-selling non-fiction book in the United States in 2004, selling over 7 million copies.

The book surged back up bestseller lists in March after a woman taken hostage in Atlanta convinced her kidnapper to release her unharmed by reading him passages from the book.

Christian fiction too, long belittled as either low-quality dross or frivolous and a waste of time, is enjoying a boom that has been linked by some to George W. Bush's presidency.

Joan Marlow Golan, executive editor of Steeple Hill, an imprint of romance publisher Harlequin dedicated to "faith-based" fiction, said the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks were "very important in terms of the growth of Christian fiction."

Last year, Steeple Hill launched an imprint of "hip, fun and smart fiction for modern and savvy women of faith."

"My first thought was Christian girls just want to have fun too, so why not do a variant of chick lit," Golan said.

Guidelines for authors are strict: "The stories may not include alcohol consumption by Christian characters, dancing, card playing, gambling or games of chance (including raffles), explicit scatological terms, hero and heroine remaining overnight together alone, Halloween celebrations or magic or the mention of intimate body parts."

Another publisher offering Christian chick lit is privately held Random House whose Broadway imprint will release "Emily Ever After" in July, the story of a country girl coming to New York. Doubleday-Broadway recently announced plans to more than double the sales of its religion unit.

Lauren Winner, author of "Real Sex: the naked truth about chastity," said Christian bookstores which account for a major chunk of sales in the sector were still cautious about content but non-fiction books like hers were pushing the boundaries.

The book discusses her own sexual experiences before she converted to Christianity and is explicit about the difficulties faced by women trying to stay chaste -- a far cry from past generations when Christian publications would assume women were not troubled by desires of the flesh.

"There's definitely a blurring of lines between religious books and self help books," said Winner, 28, who is studying for a doctorate in American religious history.

Winner said that religious imprints are raising their literary standards, pointing to the major Christian publisher Thomas Nelson's fiction imprint Westbow, launched in 2003.

"It's wholly devoted to doing subtler, less hit-you-over-the-head Christian fiction," she said.

Golan said Steeple Hill was also trying to shed the preachy tone of some Christian fiction. "It's rather tedious if characters talk like pastors giving a sermon."
























chick lit: "Chick lit" is a slightly uncomplimentary term used to denote popular fiction written for and marketed to young women, especially single young women in their 20s, working in the business world.(指年轻女性爱看的小说)

secular: 不受宗教约束的,非宗教的,世俗的

wholesome: 卫生的,有益的,有益健康的

evangelical: 信福音主义者,福音派新教会的

blurring: 模糊混乱,不清晰 



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