Jenny Monds from Sarum College shares the story of her very busy day as part of the 100 Best Christian Books selection panel.
As I walked into the Church Times office for ‘Judgement Day’ last June, when I and my fellow judges would be choosing the ‘100 Best Christian Books’ I felt a little apprehensive. This sounded like a huge task - and one that was sure to be controversial!
It all began a few weeks before the day, when I was asked to supply titles for the long list for the project. My experience of running the theological library and bookshop at Sarum College in Salisbury meant it was not too difficult to come up with suggestions, and I was subsequently asked to join the judging panel.
In preparation for the day, the Church Times staff had scored the initial list of 700 books, and sent the top 120 to the judges independently. We were asked to discard 20 and put the rest into bands and return the list. On the day, we were to turn up with our top 20, in order.
The day arrived, and an early start got me to the office, near The Barbican, to meet my fellow judges. All were familiar as authors whose books are on the shelves in the bookshop. Martyn Percy, Dean of Christchurch and until recently Principal of Ripon College Cuddesdon, and author of Thirty-Nine New Articles: An Anglican landscape of faith (Canterbury Press, 2013) was in the chair.
Round the table were David Winter, former Head of Religious Broadcasting with the BBC and author of the recent At the End of the Day (BRF 2013); Rupert Shortt, Religion Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and author of Rowan’s Rule (new ed. Hodder & Stoughton 2014); Cally Hammond, Dean of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge and author of Glorious Christianity (SPCK 2012); Malcolm Guite, singer-songwriter and chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge and author of The Singing Bowl (Canterbury Press 2013); Jane Williams, Senior Tutor in theology at St Mellitus College and author of Faces of Christ (Lion 2012) and Mark Oakley, Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and author of The Collage of God (Canterbury Press 2012).
Paul Handley, editor of the Church Times introduced the day, making it clear that our list was to be completed before we would be allowed out of the room again!
We had an initial discussion about what we meant by ‘best’, concluding that it meant influential and with lasting importance. We had been told beforehand not to include the Bible, and quickly decided also to exclude the Prayer book and other major works of liturgy as well as hymn books, as these could take up a large part of the list. We thought these deserved a separate listing of their own.
With the ground rules laid down, we were off. We started by going round the table stating our top 3. We all had one book in our top 3, so that became no 1.
We had our first title! Claire Bushey of the Church Times staff wrote it on the whiteboard. The plan was to get to 20 by lunch time. We all threw in our ideas from our 100 titles, Claire wrote furiously. Titles were written and rubbed out, and moved up and down the ranks. Somehow we got our first 20 and were allowed to stop for refreshment.
After lunch we carried on. Paul and Claire gently reminded us of titles that had been mentioned then seemingly forgotten, and encouraged us to get to fifty, then one hundred. The day flew by, and amazingly went to schedule. By the end of the day, we had our list of 100 best books.
We looked through it, happy that we had a list of books which had stood the test of time or which we felt would do so (time will tell), which included fiction and poetry and which was not solely Anglican. Nonetheless we were aware that we could have come up with a slightly different list on a different day, and that a different panel of judges may well have come up with a different list. Moreover we all had books we would like to have seen on the list which didn’t make it. However we had a solid list. Paul Handley looked pleased, and somewhat relieved.
So what was the point? As booksellers, publishers, suppliers and church leaders it is in our interest to encourage reading, particularly of Christian books, and to promote classic texts which have been hugely influential. If you are a publisher of one of the books, use that in your marketing. If you are a bookseller, you now have a great opportunity to get a discussion going among your customers. Use Facebook and Twitter and the dedicated website.
The Church Times has produced attractive fliers, bookmarks and stickers - make sure you have some in your shop. You may not have many of the titles in stock, but why not make a display of those you have, and at least stock the top titles?
You may not agree with our list, but get involved in the discussion, have fun, and be glad that Christian books are the centre of attention. If you missed them, the articles were published in the Church Times September 26th, October 3rd and October 10th.
November 16th, 2014 - Posted & Written by Together Magazine