People of the Book
A Blog about Book Publishing from a Catholic Perspective

The Sign of the Cross

February 28th, 2007

CrossMost Protestants dismiss the sign of the cross as “a Catholic thing,” but Nathan Bierma, a writer for Christianity Today, urges his fellow Protestants to take another look at this ancient gesture of prayer. Bierma reviews two new books: Bert Ghezzi’s The Sign of the Cross: Rediscovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer and The Sign of the Cross: The Gesture, the Mystery, the History by Andrew Andreopoulos. “After reading these two books, this previously ignorant Protestant, for one, has decided to introduce the sign of the cross into his daily prayer, as a link with the early church, a sign of God’s claim on me, and a reminder of the mystery of the Trinity,” he writes.

Bierma makes this shrewd point about prayer:

    Whether we practice it or not, the sign of the cross is one manifestation of how physical—how embodied—worship really is. It can be as simple as raising our hands during a praise song, sitting up straight when the first few chords of a hymn are struck, or closing our eyes and folding our hands to pray. All of these motions have become ingrained in our body language of worship. Like the sign of the cross, they contain great potential for physical demonstration and remembrance of a deeper meaning—and also great potential for becoming so routine that eventually we do them out of mere habit—or worse, for show.

Read the whole thing.

POD: Farewell to Inventory

February 25th, 2007

Many publishers have begun using print on demand vendors to keep slow-selling backlist books in print. Now, St. Mary’s Press has installed an in-house Print on Demand system for many of its frontlist books. The press will drastically reduce physical inventory of books, and slash the warehouse, handling, and insurance costs associated with it. John Vitek, president of SMP, says that, within two years, the write-down for unsold inventory will drop from $150,000 to $25,000.

SMP’s print-on-demand system can produce up to 4000 book a day. It will be used for most of the press’s books. Textbooks, Bibles, and a few other high-volume items will still be printed by outside printers.

Vitek describes the system in a brief article on the Catholic Book Publishers Association website. He invites publishers who want to know the deatils to contract him at

March Catholic Bestsellers

February 23rd, 2007

From the Catholic Book Publishers Association:


1. Celebration of Discipline, 25th Anniversary Edition
Richard Foster. Harper San Francisco

2. Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness
Matthew Kelly. Beacon Publishing/Ballantine

3. Crossing the Desert
Robert J. Wicks. Ave Maria Press

4. Prophets: The Saint John’s Bible
Donald Jackson. Liturgical Press

5. The Bridge to Forgiveness: Stories and Prayers for Finding God and Restoring Wholeness
Karyn D. Kedar. Jewish Lights

6. The Rhythm of Life
Matthew Kelly. Beacon Publishing/Fireside

7. The Seven Levels of Intimacy
Matthew Kelly. Beacon Publishing/Fireside

8. Catechism of the Catholic Church
Doubleday/Our Sunday Visitor/USCCB Publishing

9. Rediscovering Catholicism
Matthew Kelly. Beacon Publishing

10. Perpetual Motivation
Donald Jackson. Liturgical Press


1. Not By Bread Alone: Daily Reflections for Lent 2007
Sherri L. Valee. Liturgical Press

2. Mere Christianity
C.S. Lewis. Harper San Francisco

3. Catechism of the Catholic Church
Doubleday/Our Sunday Visitor/USCCB Publishing

4. United States Catholic Catechism for Adults

USCCB Publishing

5. The Good News about Sex & Marriage
Christopher West. Servant Books

6. The Screwtape Letters
C.S. Lewis. Harper San Francisco

7. Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Libreria Editrice Vaticana, USCCB Publishing

8. Handbook for Today’s Catholic
A Redemptorist Pastoral Publication, Liguori

9. The Great Divorce

C.S. Lewis. Harper San Francisco

10. The Gospel According to Luke, New Collegeville Bible Commentary, Vol. 3
Michael Patella. Liturgical Press

The Bishop’s Novel

February 22nd, 2007

Myers Some bishops play golf or go fishing in their spare time. Archbishop John Myers of Newark has been writing a science fiction novel. The title is Space Vultures. Co-author Gary Wolf, a lifelong friend of the bishop’s, says the book is an old-fashioned pulp sci-fi tale. “It has attacks in space, flesh-eating vampires. You name it it’s in there,” he says. The story is a fast-paced intergalactic tale about a heroic marshal and a con man, who team up with a widow and her two children to fight the Space Vulture, the “most villainous marauder in the cosmos,” according to Wolf.

The book will be published late this year or early in 2008 by Tom Doherty Associates. Bishop Myers and Wolf got an advance in “the low six figures” according to press reports.

Many priests have written popular novels. (Think Andrew Greeley, who got his start years ago when my boss, Tom McGrath, then editor of U.S. Catholic, published his first short story.) But not many bishops have become novelists. Only Cardinal John Henry Newman comes to mind.

To Keep A True Lent

February 21st, 2007

Is this a Fast, to keep
     The larder lean?
                  And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish
     Of flesh, yet still
                  To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,
     Or ragg’d to go,
                  Or show
A down-cast look and sour?

No: ‘tis a Fast to dole
     Thy sheaf of wheat
                  And meat
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife
     And old debate,
                  And hate;
To circumcise thy life.

To show a heart grief–rent;
     To starve thy sin,
                  Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Mardi Gras Roundup

February 20th, 2007

If you have a taste for science fiction, as I do, check out this discussion of the tradition of Christians writing fantasy and sf. He lists 21 writers who have broad literary reputations, who employed Christian themes and symbols, and who wrote more than one book.

Amy Welborn and friends comment on many scripture resources from many Catholic publishers.

The Times dissects the much-used thriller formula used by the many Dan Brown imitators: “Take a sacred treasure. Add a secret conspiracy. Attach a name well known to scholars — Dante, Poe, Wordsworth, Archimedes, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, the Romanovs, Vlad the Impaler, ‘Hypnerotomachia Poliphili,’ whatever — and work it into a story that can accommodate both the Glock and the Holy Grail. If there’s any room left for the Knights Templar or DNA samples from Biblical figures, by all means plug them in.”

Wonder, Creativity, and Numbers

February 19th, 2007

The LA Times looks at the murky world of book sales figures. “The publishing business has never gone out of its way to report actual sales numbers because it has no real interest in doing so,” says one consultant. Why not? “Out of every 10 hardcover adult books, seven lose money, two break even and one is a hit. So, of course, this business is secretive about sales. Would you want to tell the world that 70% of your output is losing money?”

Many in the business resist looking too closely at the numbers. Says one bookseller, “If you look at sales figures, it’s not a pretty picture. And when you get so obsessed with numbers, you lose the wonder and creativity that’s basic to the book business.”

Gutenberg’s Tech Support

February 18th, 2007

The book was a technological breakthrough when it appeared 500 years ago. It confused many people at the time, as this Norwegian video shows.

Pitchers and Catchers Report

February 16th, 2007

NatePitchers and catchers have their first spring training workouts today, and fans can begin to ponder life’s persistent questions. Who will be the fifth starter in the Tigers’ rotation? Will the Twins overcome the loss of Fancisco Liriano? Who will play centerfield for the White Sox? And those are just the pressing questions in the American League Central division. There are five other divisions in major league baseball. Twenty-seven other teams. A rich feast of speculation. And of joy and heartache.

Here are the latest odds on the 2007 World Series championship. I’m pleased and a little startled to see my Tigers sitting in second place behind the rich, aging Yankees. Both Chicago teams are in the top five, which will please everyone at Loyola Press. The gambling odds reflect the conventional wisdom. There will undoubtedly be teams that surprise, as the Tigers did last year. Who will that be this year? My candidates are the Cleveland Indians and the Milwaukee Brewers.

As managers are wont to say in the spring, “if we stay healthy and get some breaks, we’ll surprise some people.”

From Blossoms

February 16th, 2007


From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the joy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

–Li-Young Lee, Rose

Selling Books at Home

February 12th, 2007

Novelist Patry Francis is trying out a new marketing idea in launching her new book this month. She’ll be talking about her novel at gatherings in people’s homes — “a cross between a literary salon and a Tupperware Party.” Dutton, her publisher, has printed brochures and invitations, and will reward party hosts with free books. Most of the hosts of these parties know Patry from her blog.

This isn’t a new idea. I’ve heard marketing people talk about it before. It’s good to see a publisher and an author teaming up to do it. With the right book and right author, other publishers might try it too.

Video of Note

February 11th, 2007

Here’s a short video on YouTube that was created by an anthropology prof in Kansas. The material is fascinating; it’s a primer on what Web 2.0 is all about. But it’s also a great example of how creative people are using the web to do new things.

It’s been viewed more than 800,000 times since January 31.

Book and Publishing Roundup

February 9th, 2007

The British critic A.N. Wilson writes about J.R.R. Tolkein’s fascination with Europe’s mythic past.

Columnist Phil Lawler isn’t happy that Doubleday, not Ignatius, is publishing the Pope’s new book. But, one commenter points out, “For all of Ignatius Press’ orthodoxy, they’re very slow . . . . Doubleday will get the book out fast and that’s good, isn’t it? More people will read it.”

Three famous novelists — Jeffrey Archer, Elizabeth Berg, and Anne Rice — are releasing new books inspired by the gospels.

Steve Bogner and friends indulge in some stimulating book talk. Lots of “word of mouth” recommendations here.

At YouTube, the Pauline Sisters suggest best Catholic books for Lent.

And finally, with the Super Bowl safely behind us, it’s time to think about God’s game. Pitchers and catchers report next week. Click here for a complete list.

What Fiction Does

February 7th, 2007

“We have a tendency to separate heaven and earth, soul and body, mind and matter, the unseen and the seen. Myth unites them. Myth honors our intuitions, frees our imaginations, mediates between those things we can explain and those things we cannot explain but in our heart of hearts know. We fall in love unreasonably. We act on premonitions, inklings, and perplexing needs. Who among us have held time in our hands? And yet we know we are changed by it. Our lives are filled with mysteries and miracles, coincidence, hunches, and revelations, feelings that have no basis in anything we can put a finger on. Myth pays homage to those intangibles, acknowledging that they are as fully a part of our experience as the tulip glass of Veuve Clicquot we had the other night.”

–Ron Hansen, Faith and Fiction

Short Stories about Abortion

February 6th, 2007

Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is a great short story about abortion. Another is David Foster Wallace’s “Good People,” which was published in last week’s New Yorker. It’s online here. Hurry. New Yorker content doesn’t stay online for long, and this is a story that’s not to be missed.

Neither Wallace nor Hemingway mention the word “abortion” in their stories. The couples in the stories avoid directly naming the terrible reality they are contemplating. They talk around it. They think around it, as most people do. Hemingway, the master of dialogue and spare detail, views his troubled couple from the outside. Wallace does the opposite. His story takes place inside the mind of a young man sitting next to his girlfriend as they wordlessly wonder whether to keep the clinic appointment. The ending is perfect.

Meanwhile, Jody Bottum wants to compile an anthology of pro-life fiction.

What’s Behind the Google Litigation?

February 5th, 2007

Last year, big publishers and the Authors Guild sued to stop Google from scanning copyrighted materials into its Book Search database. Many observers (like me) were puzzled by this, because it seems clearly in everyone’s interest for books, especially out of print books, to be available on the internet. As one university librarian put it, “if it’s not online, it doesn’t exist.”

Jeffry Toobin, the New Yorker’s legal writer, says that the litigation is part of an elaborate negotiation between Google and the publishing industry, and that’s it’s headed for a settlement. The parties will eventually agree to a formula to compensate publishers and copyright holders. “Publishers could receive a fee based on a statistical analysis of how often their books are viewed. Google could pay in cash or in kind, with advertising,” he writes. The interesting part is how this solution will benefit Google. By paying to scan books, Google would be making it difficult for less affluent companies to compete.

Books are heading online. Toobin’s piece is a lucid description of how this is happening. Read it here.

An O’Connor Pilgrimage

February 4th, 2007

FlanneryA splendid account of a trip “In Search of Flannery O’Connor” is featured in the travel section of today’s Times. Timesman Lawrence Downes visits Milledgeville, Georgia, where O’Connor lived with her mother on a dairy farm and wrote her greatest prose. Downes is a real fan. “Her doctrinally strict, mordantly funny stories and novels are as close to perfect as writing gets.”

    There is no slow buildup on this tour; the final destination is the first doorway on your left: O’Connor’s bedroom and study, converted from a sitting room because she couldn’t climb the stairs. Mr. Amason stood back, politely granting me silence as I gathered my thoughts and drank in every detail.

    This is where O’Connor wrote, for three hours every day. Her bed had a faded blue-and-white coverlet. The blue drapes, in a 1950’s pattern, were dingy, and the paint was flaking off the walls. There was a portable typewriter, a hi-fi with classical LPs, a few bookcases. Leaning against an armoire were the aluminum crutches that O’Connor used, with her rashy swollen legs and crumbling bones, to get from bedroom to kitchen to porch.

The Future of the Novel?

February 2nd, 2007

Penguin UK is taking social networking and user-generated content to the next level. At, a wiki-style website, a group of writers are collaborating on a novel. “It’s an experiment,” says Jeremy Ettinghausen, head of the project.

Indeed. Here’s a sample:

    Big Tony lifted the phone to his ear, ordered an extra large pepperoni pizza. Not what he wanted, not what he desired. But his adopted pleasure-witholding mantra forced him to make choices like this against his wants and needs, against his better judgement. If he was honest though, he was starting to get some strange perverse sense of enjoyment from it. Pleasure from witholding pleasure. He’d thought its just so much crap, but it was just how they’d said.

And there’s this:

    Paris Hilton was at the airport when David and Victoria arrived. Her mother had suggested she be there. “It might help them acclimatise.” said the Mom of Paris. Nevertheless, Paris had been reluctant to go as Melrose Place re-runs were showing on HBO and she loved history.

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