Saturday, July 09, 2011

Authority, Credibility, Trust: Whose Book Do You Read?

I really think I need to just ask: what do you want in an author?

By "you" I mean you, Mom, or whoever else is reading this blog. By "author" I'm slightly more specific, if only because I'm selfish: I acquire nonfiction books for a mainstream evangelical Christian publishing house, so it's helpful to me to know whom you're willing to throw down money and time to read mainstream evangelical Christian nonfiction from. (That's right, I ended that sentence with a preposition. Deal it with.)

For example (and only for example; I'm not actually trying to decide between two books like this at the moment): Imagine you have before you three books contending with the thorny issue of immigration reform. One is written by a pastor with some experience dealing with immigration policy; one is written by a government official with a defined political persuasion who is also a professing Christian; one is written by a lay Christian with undocumented immigrant family members. Which book do you buy?

For the sake of this experiment, let's assume they all have basically the same position on immigration reform, only because I'm not asking about whether you read to be convinced or to have your opinions affirmed. I know that much media is consumed specifically for one or the other of those reasons (increasingly, I'm afraid, for the latter). The operative question in that instance isn't so much "What do you want in an author?" but "What do you want out of an author?"

What I'm trying to get at here, by contrast, is what you want in an author. Whose voice is most credible to you? Whose voice you trust the most? The person with positional spiritual authority (the pastor)? The person with professional credibility (the immigration official)? Or the person with a personal story?

I find myself drawn increasingly away from the folks whose positions give them gravitas, whose social location demands my deference, and increasingly to the people who have survived the challenges that capture my imagination. In as politically volatile and socially turbulent a time as this, when so many of our decisions must be made from the gut because we lack the time to turn them around in our heads, when our positions of authority involve a whole host of prior commitments and an implicit commitment to protect the status quo, I trust the people whose experience is most visceral--not so much the ones who have made their fortunes on the subject but those for whom the subject has cost them dearly.

Sometimes, of course, these three personas converge in one form or another: the immigration official is herself the child of immigrants; the pastor serves and loves a church with a significant undocumented population. Not everyone is ordained or licensed or otherwise credentialed through the authority structures we've initiated or (more likely) inherited); but everybody has a story. And increasingly for me it's their story--even those who are so accredited--that is most authoritative, that most merits my trust.

But that's me. And if that's not you, I'd really like to know, because I want to sell you some books.

2 comments:

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

I would drawn most to the personal story, then to the pastor, but rarely to the politician. However, I think I would be drawn most to a pastor with a family experience. Your reasoning resonates with me too.

Anonymous said...

I like authors who are incredibly good looking and modest. Like me.