Harold Bell Wright’s “That Printer of Udell’s”

BLOG #2, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #37
HAROLD BELL WRIGHT’S THAT PRINTER OF UDELL’S
January 14, 2015

Many of you responded to last week’s blog overwhelmingly urging me to hold the course and extend the life of our book club for another year. Everyone appeared pleased that last week’s blog had a convenient listing of authors and their books; this way, if you’d missed certain books you could secure them, read them, and add them to your library. And new book club members could begin with whatever titles they wished.

Several of you specifically mentioned your love of Harold Bell Wright’s books, and how, ever since we featured Wright’s The Calling of Dan Matthews, you’d been acquiring other titles bearing his name. This tied in perfectly with my growing conviction (over the last month) that it was time to revisit Wright, this time featuring what I felt to be his greatest book.

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“First Edition cover with tipped-in illustration”

Back in the early 1970s, when, choosing a doctoral dissertation topic at Vanderbilt University, my first choice was Wright. Unfortunately, I discovered several other doctoral dissertations had already been written about Wright’s significance, so I reluctantly moved on to Fyodor Dostoevsky, then eventually to Zane Grey.

To History of Ideas (my doctoral emphasis) scholars, Wright fascinates because he is central to the Social Gospel movement that began in America during the 1890s. Walter Rauschenbusch, a Baptist clergyman and theological professor, articulated the philosophical base for the movement in books such as Christianity and the Social Crises (1907), Christianizing the Social Order (1912), and A Theology of the Social Gospel (1917). But far more influential (in terms of impact on the popular culture) than he was Charles Sheldon (a Topeka pastor who penned In His Steps, first published in 1896). It has sold several million copies and remains in print today. But it would be Wright who would take the movement to its zenith in his extremely popular romances: That Printer of Udell’s (1903), The Calling of Dan Matthews (1909), Helen of the Old House (1921), and the increasingly rare God and the Groceryman (1929).

The premise of the movement, born as it was during America’s greedy Gilded Age, was that the Jesus of the Gospels was not the least bit interested in doctrine or church politics, but rather His entire earthly ministry was dedicated to humble selfless service to others, mainly the common people, those most in need. His ministry was all-inclusive—no one, not even lepers, criminals, prostitutes, Romans, outcasts, or gentiles, were excluded. Yet, thoughtful people, especially Protestant pastors such as Charles Sheldon, Harold Bell Wright, and Henry Van Dyke, couldn’t help but notice the glaring disconnect bedtween Jesus’ caring ministry and the pompous, self-righteous, smug, arrogant church leaders and members of the time, who apparently had not the least interest in following in Christ’s footsteps service-wise. These ministers early on, discovered that abstractions didn’t work with their congregations; only as they sugar-coated them in Story would their listeners take them seriously and internalize them. Only recently have scholars realized that the first four centuries after Christ (during which time over a quarter of the Roman Empire turned Christian), Post-Apostolic church leaders and members’ entire theology was the Didache, based on Christ’s answer to the oft-posed question, “What do I have to do to be saved?”

‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’
–Matthew 22:37-40

In my second book on the life and ministry of St. Nicholas, I noted that contemporaries labeled this spiritual emphasis as “The Way of Life,” or the Didache, and I quote D. L. Cann, in this respect:

The imperial and provincial governments offered no regular social service programs—people simply had to take care of themselves or starve. Into that abyss of human need, ignored by provincial and imperial authorities, stepped the Christian communities. Led by bishops, priests, deaconesses, and deacons, the faithful carried out their ministry to the urban poor. The Christian churches of the first four centuries provided hospice care for the sick, as well as support for widows, orphans and the unfortunate. . . . From the teachings in the Gospels, the Christians, and young Nicholas with them, cultivated a strong sense of responsibility to care for the souls and bodies of those in need.

No wonder Christianity was turning the world upside down!
–Saint Nicholas, by Joe Wheeler (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2010, pp. 5-7).

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Illustration from P. 191 of First Edition

Thus writers such as Wright wove the essence of the Didache into novels such as That Printer of Udell’s, a book I consider one of the most significant seminal books of the last century and a half.

Historians of Ideas note that Wright published the book in 1903, before automobiles, airplanes, electricity, indoor plumbing, radio, and electronics revolutionized society. Horses and buggies, privies, candle-or lantern-lit homes, children forced to work as adults, terrible pollution, abysmal medical conditions, education more often than not limited to only a couple of years—in short: the world Wright captures in this riveting novel. In it, Wright’s protagonists attempt to live by the question, “What would Jesus do if He were in my place?” And juxtaposed, the “Christians” who ridiculed those who would dared to live by Christ’s Didache.

If you want to dig deeper into Wright, I suggest you track down Lawrence V. Tagg’s Harold Bell Wright: Storyteller to America (Tucson, Arizona: Westernlore Press, 1985). In it, you will discover that Wright himself endured all that was worst in society during his early life, but miraculously rose above it.

There are many editions of That Printer of Udell’s, but for all you bibliophiles who cherist first editions, I urge you to track down at least a VG copy of the book: That Printer of Udell’s A Story of the Middle West (Chicago: The Book Supply Company, 1902). It will incorporate 9 splendid illustrations by John Clitheroe Gilbert and a tipped-in cover illustration (hand-glued on).

Will be most interested in your reactions to the book. If you’re like me, you’ll return to it again and again.

Book Club Retrospective #2

BLOG #1, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK CLUB RETROSPECTIVE #2
January 7, 2015

It’s time to look back at last year’s book selections and get your feedback as to which ones you liked best, why, and suggestions as to upcoming twelve 2015 book selections. In essence, this is your opportunity to give the professor a grade for the 2014 book selections.

As I look back, judging by your responses, the #1 book selection of the year has to be the October entry: Ralph Moody’s Little Britches. A number of you were introduced to the Moody family read-aloud series ago, and welcomed the opportunity to revisit. Do let me know which other selections you especially enjoyed.

And for all of you who may be interested in climbing aboard for this year’s selections, permit me to bring you up to date. Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Series was born On Oct. 19, 2010, as a result of former students urging me to come back into their lives in a special way: “Dr. Wheeler, years ago, I was in your classes, and you introduced us to books you’ve loved personally—and got me to do the same. I miss those sessions with you! Please, please, do it again. There are millions of books out there, which makes it ever so difficult for me to choose the ones that are really worth reading—especially for people like me who, like you, strongly believe in God and country, and values worth living by.” [a synthesis of responses].

But now, since I couldn’t give anyone a grade and wasn’t ordering books, I have had little control over who bothered to buy the books and read them and who did not. A year ago, a bit discouraged because I didn’t hear back from “members” very often, I asked for feedback. So positive were your responses, and so many told me you were finding copies, reading them, and adding them to your personal libraries, that I decided to keep the series going. A number of you have gone further and told me how meaningful many of the selections have been to you personally.

Such responses really help, for it is time-consuming to keep searching for new books worth including, older books that are worth considering, and books I’ve loved but must re-read before I grant them my personal blessing by choosing them.

Undoubtedly, the world-wide-web has made it easy for any of us to track down copies of even some of the scarcer titles.

It has evolved into a most eclectic mix of genres: non-fiction, contemporary, books children and teens have loved for generations, timeless classics, romantic fiction, westerns, Christmas classics, and so on. It is my hope and prayer that, if you keep my feet to the fire long enough, we’ll end up with a family library that generations yet to come will cherish.

To make it easier for current members to respond, and for non-members to join us, I am including a list of all the book-selections so far with dates the blogs appeared, to make it easier for new members to begin catching up on books they’d like to add to their libraries. Here they are:

OUR FIRST 36 BOOKS

Bergreen, Lawrence, Over the Edge of the World (May 28, 2014)
Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
Conan Doyle, Arthur, The White Company (April 30, 2014)
Dana, Richard Henry, Two Years Before the Mast (March 26, 2014)
Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
Duncan, Dayton, and Ken Burns, (The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
Grey, Zane (1) Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
(2) Riders of the Purple Sage (June 5, 2013)
(3) The Vanishing American (June 30, 2014)
(4) Wanderer of the Wasteland (March 28, 2012)
Hale, Edward Everett, Sr., The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
Hugo, Victor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
Lorenzini, Carlos, Pinocchio (Sept. 24, 2014)
Lowry, Lois, The Giver (Aug. 27, 2014)
Moody, Ralph, Little Britches (Oct. 29, 2014)
Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (April 3, 2013)
Richmond, Grace, (1) Foursquare (Jan. 2, 2013)
(2) The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
Sabatini, Ralph, Scaramouche (Feb. 26, 2014)
Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012) (Nov. 26, 2014)
Sienkiewicz, Henryk, Quo Vadis (Jan. 28, 2014)
Spyri, Johanna, Heidi (July 30, 2014)
Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)
Wiggin, Kate Douglas, The Birds’ Christmas Carol (Nov. 26, 2014)
Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 26, 2011)
Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)

* * * * *

WHAT I NEED FROM YOU

Please weigh in immediately, and identify yourself (if unknown to me) as to interest in book club. Let me know (1) how long you’ve been a member, (2) what percentage of the 36 books you’ve purchased and read, (3) what your reactions are, (4) what grade you’d give me so far, (5) and any other thoughts you might be willing to share. Do this during the next week, please.

Also, suggestions for adding more members, such as starting up a discussion forum on Facebook or other media venues.

You may reach me at:
Joe L. Wheeler, Ph.D.
P.O. Box 1246
Conifer, Co 80433
http://www.joewheelerbooks.com
mountainauthor@gmail.com
Wednesdays with Dr. Joe@wordpress.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Book Readers Weigh In

BLOG #3, SERIES #5
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
BOOK READERS WEIGH IN
Part One
January 15, 2014

Ever since readers were asked to respond with their views of Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club, responses have been rolling in. Most of the responders clearly want to see the series continue, beginning with this first responder:

I have been following your “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” I really enjoy it, and have read books that I didn’t know existed. I will have to admit that I am still in the process of reading Les Miserables. Since I haven’t seen either the musical or the movie, it is all new. I am sure that I would never have gotten into any of Zane Grey’s books without your suggestions on the blog. They are completely different from my preconceived notion.

I have read, or already own and have read, most of the books. I especially enjoyed the books by Grace Richmond–looked others up on line–The Master’s Violin, City of Bells, and My Friend the Chauffeur–also a couple of other books by the same authors.

What I think I appreciate most is having some guidance on what is worth spending time reading. I have always enjoyed reading, but in a bookstore or online it is pretty daunting to select something of value. I will have to admit to enjoying a bit of romance in the stories.
–Rosalind H.

A second responder wished more of the club members bothered to comment electronically so that there could be more give and take:

I love your book club, please, please, please don’t stop. I look forward to your selections every month. The three I did not read were Wanderer of the Wasteland (one Zane Grey was enough for me), Penrod (I tried, I really did, but I just could not get into it) and Les Miserables (I’d just seen the movie and felt that was enough. Maybe I will read it at a later time). I have read all the rest. I try to get all my books from the library so sometimes I lapse behind. I just got Lassie Come Home from the library. They purchased it for me so it took longer to get. I missed your December 4th posting for The Other Wise Man. I ordered it from the library this morning and they have it on the shelf! Hooray! Hmm, where was I on December 4th? If the library can’t locate a copy for me I then buy the book on-line.

You have introduced me to so many wonderful writings, just a few of my favorites are Anne of Green Gables (okay I’ve read that before and adored it), The Christmas Angel, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Home for Christmas. Grace S. Richmond is a new author for me and I have so enjoyed her books. My Friend the Chauffeur, how charming. In His Steps I so enjoyed. I’ve created a folder on my Goodreads account just for your recommendations.

A couple of times I’ve commented on your blog about the books, but so few folks comment, I guess I just didn’t make it a priority. I apologize for that because I do want you to know how much I appreciate your efforts. And, I don’t want you to stop….

I would love you to recommend some of the books for which you have written the Introduction and the Afterward; they are full of such interesting information as is the information you give in your blog about the author when you recommend a book for the month.

Thank you for your contribution to those of us who love to read and want to read quality, not quantity or fluff. I love to be stretched and find an author I would not have tried otherwise or have never encountered before.
–Kathryn H.

This third responder is typical of those who, while extremely busy, still find time to keep up.

I love the book club blog and faithfully have read most of the books. There are two that I have purchased, but not read yet. I am in school and work full time so these books have become my “fun vacation reading” time.

You have introduced me to several authors that I knew about for years, but had never actually read a full length book by any of them. The following are my favorite authors from the book list so far:

Zane Grey, Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, Myrtle Reed, Grace Richmond, Charles Sheldon.

I have read several books by Zane Grey and Harold Bell Wright beyond what was recommended in the book list. I enjoy your commentaries that include information about the authors as I am then able to search for other books by the same author. My copy of Freckles is the edition you did for Focus on the Family and I especially enjoyed your introduction in that book.

I like the format of the blog and look forward to your emails on Wednesday. I recommend books to my family based on your list. My boys have now read every book by Zane Grey in our library.

Thank you for the time and effort you put into the book club. You are appreciated.
–Michelle S.

This fourth responder is typical of those who list the books they like best but don’t say much about any of them:

I do not know exactly when I began to watch for your Wednesday blog, but have been a fan of yours ever since I bought my first “Christmas in My Heart” book. I have purchased Myrtle Reed’s “The Master’s Violin,” and also a copy of your book on Abraham Lincoln and enjoyed them both. Below is a list of the books I have read at one time or at the behest of your recommendation:

The Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (every year at Christmas time)
Walden, by Henry David Thoreau
Little Lord Fauntleroy, by Frances Hodgson Burnett
In His Steps, by Charles Sheldon
Foursquare, by Grace Richmond
The Man Without a Country, by Edward Everett Hale
The Master’s Violin, by Myrtle Reed
Riders of the Purple Sage, by Zane Grey
The Other Wise Man, by Henry Van Dyke (every Christmas)
* Books read per your suggestions.

Please keep up the good work. I enjoy the book club as well as your other blogs about your travels, etc. May the Christmas season be the time of blessing for you and your family.
–Lillian K.

The fifth is a sample of the many heartwarming encouragers who take the time to write me about the joy this club is bringing them.

First of all, I must apologize for never responding about the book club or to voice my deep appreciation. You have brought me untold joy in the discovery of so many new (to me) authors. I have found that your and my tastes are just about the same. I love anything that you recommend and run immediately to the internet to download the book via my Kindle or find a hard copy on Amazon. So please, Dr. Joe, keep it up! I will read your recommendation and then I usually find other books by the same author and devour those as well. Elizabeth Goudge is by far my favorite. I have purchased nearly all of her works and continue to enjoy every one. I love the spirit of her books as they tell a wonderful story but are uplifting at the same time.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for continuing to bless us with your amazing knowledge and wisdom. I feel privileged to be the recipient and I promise to be better about responding to each recommendation so you know that there is someone out there.
–Julie S.

The sixth tells me that grandparents (those who pass on the traditions in their families), continue to see the value of books worth reading.

Thank you for being so faithful in selecting each book. Thank you for providing a synopsis of each book and its relevance within the world in which it was written. Thank you for giving perspective as to why it is relevant to us in today’s world.

I am a book club wanna be. I have managed to read two and have several more on my smartphone for future reading. I am curious what kind of feedback you get from other readers. I am guessing not a lot or you wouldn’t need to ask for feedback now. Is there a separate forum for the dialog on each selection? If so, I would like to be added. If not, may I suggest maybe a separate blog or Facebook page for the discussion? I would like to subscribe to it.

Your efforts have a lot of meaning to me even though I haven’t taken full advantage of the book club. I enjoy your weekly blogs and look forward to them every Wednesday morning. They have a way of lifting my spirit to a different place and time. They remind me of views and values I am trying to impart to my grandchildren. I enjoy your travel blogs. Some remind me of places I have been and some are places I am adding to my To-Go list. Smile!
–Linda F.

This seventh responder is delightfully candid about which selections and authors are favorites and which are not.

Pursued Zane Grey on your suggestion (and, sorry, wasn’t particularly impressed). Collected a bunch of Grace Richmond on my ibooks and love her stuff. Same for Myrtle Reed and Charles Sheldon; the Guttenberg Project is wonderful for allowing me to find and read many of those old books.

I already collect Harold Bell Wright, Gene Stratton Porter, and Grace Livingston Hill. I like Lloyd C. Douglas but couldn’t find the title you wrote about.

I already knew and love Lassie Come Home and The Other Wise Man, of course. And already know and cannot tolerate Les Miserables (yes, I’m sure that makes me a bad person).

So, a short answer would be, yes, I read the book club posts and follow-up when and as I can! And please continue!
–Elsi D.

I will share a second batch of responses with you next week. Then, the following blog will launch the first of our 2014 book selections.

Keep reading!

All Ye Book-Lovers

BLOG #51, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ALL YE BOOK-LOVERS
LOOKING BACKWARD; LOOKING FORWARD
December 18, 2013

It was a little over two years ago that we launched “Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club.” Since it was voluntary, no-fee, and no one was required to respond, it has been most difficult to know just who has been faithfully (at least most of the time) keeping up. Before introducing Book #26 in 2014, I’d really like to hear back from all of you who have been following along. Let me know which authors, titles, you like best, and why. General reactions to the format too. Anything – just report in. Please? So I can be reassured that these monthly book blogs are meeting a need.

To refresh your memory – if you’ve been following along –, and to enable you to start back at the beginning, if you’ve a mind to, here is a list of our first 25 books of the month. Since I’m providing the dates those entries first appeared, it should be relatively easy for you to retrieve all those earlier entries. Here they are:

PROPOSAL FOR CLUB (October 26, 2011)

BOOKS

1. Williamson, C. M. And A. M., My Friend the Chauffeur (Oct. 19, 2011)
2. Wright, Harold Bell, The Calling of Dan Matthews (Oct. 26, 2011)
3. Dickens, Charles, The Christmas Carol (Nov. 23, 2011)
4. Brown, Abbie Farwell, The Christmas Angel (Nov. 23, 2011)
5. Grey, Zane, Heritage of the Desert (Dec. 28, 2011)
6. Thoreau, Henry David, Walden (Jan. 25, 2012)
7. Burnett, Frances Hodgson, Little Lord Fauntleroy (Feb. 29, 2012)
8. Grey, Zane, Wanderer of the Wasteland [ZG #2] (Mar. 28, 2012)
9. Tennyson, Alfred, Lord, Enoch Arden (May 2, 2012)
10. Richmond, Grace, The Twenty-Fourth of June (May 23, 2012)
11. Duncan, Dayton , and Ken Burns, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea (June 27, 2012)
12. Sheldon, Charles, In His Steps (Aug. 22, 2012)
13. Goudge, Elizabeth, City of Bells (Sept. 26, 2012)
14. Tarkington, Booth, Penrod (Oct. 31, 2012)
15. Douglas, Lloyd C., Home for Christmas (Nov. 28, 2012)
16. Richmond, Grace, Foursquare [GR #2] (Jan. 2, 2013)
17. Hale, Edward Everett, The Man Without a Country (Feb. 6, 2013)
18. Reed, Myrtle, The Master’s Violin (Apr. 3, 2013)
19. Huxley, Aldous, Brave New World, and Brave New World Revisited (May 8, 2013)
20. Grey, Zane, Riders of the Purple Sage [ZG #3] (June 5, 2013)
21. Porter, Gene Stratton, Freckles (July 17, 2013)
22. Hill, Grace Livingston, Happiness Hill (Aug. 21, 2013)
23. Hugo, Vic tor, Les Miserables (Sept. 25, 2013)
24. Knight, Eric, Lassie Come Home (Nov. 6, 2013)
25. Van Dyke, Henry, The Other Wise Man (Dec. 4, 2013)

CONTACT INFORMATION

Please respond to this blog questionnaire [includes those who’d like to join the club right now] via one of the following:

P.O. Box 1246, Conifer, CO 80433

email: mountainauthor@gmail.com

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Lloyd C. Douglas’s Home for Christmas

BLOG #48, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #15
LLOYD C. DOUGLAS’S HOME FOR CHRISTMAS
November 28, 2012

Book-length Christmas stories have fascinated me almost as much as individual Christmas stories. But there has been one crucial difference between the two genres: Although thousands of writers have written individual Christmas stories, very few have tackled longer Christmas stories—and far fewer yet are still remembered today.

One of them that is still remembered—but is barely hanging on—is Lloyd C. Douglas’s Home for Christmas (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1937). The author has long been one of my all-time favorite inspirational writers. Dr. Douglas (1877 – 1951) burst into the publishing world late in life, for he’d been a pastor, chiefly in university centers, for more than a quarter century, and was more than 50 years of age, when he wrote his first novel, The Magnificent Obsession in 1932. Defying all odds, that first book became a blockbuster, both in print and in film, exceeded only by The Robe in 1943. Douglas’s novels tended to be fictionalized homilies that expounded the gospel that men and women could live good and successful lives through altruism and amity based on New Testament principles. Douglas, a Congregational clergyman, was spiritual heir to a long tradition of ministers who used fiction to popularize spiritual truths for the masses—such as Charles Sheldon, Henry Van Dyke, Harold Bell Wright, and others.

* * * * *

Our readers are really going to have to seriously search in order to unearth copies of this title as it is today one of Douglas’s scarcest titles, but it will be well worth your time to do so.

Following is the introductory blurb on the First Edition dust jacket:

The Claytons spent all their childhood in a little farmhouse. Now there were Gertrude in New York, Claire in Louisville, Nan in Detroit, Fred in California, and Jim in Chicago—all prosperous American citizens. Nan had kept the old homestead just as it was when the Claytons were young, and it was her idea that they should all go back there for Christmas to live for a few days as they had done in their childhood, remembering the hardships and pleasures of those far-off years.

Nan’s project sounded a little alarming to her older brothers and sisters settled in their comfortable ways, but every one of the Claytons was a good sport. All the in-laws were banished, and the five gathered by themselves in the little farmhouse. What happened there is told in a novelette full of humor and tenderness and intertwined with a delightful love story.

Happy hunting first of all, then, on some cold winter night, settle down by the fireplace for an unforgettable Christmas read.

Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month Club — Charles Sheldon’s “In His Steps”

BLOG #34, SERIES #3
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB
CHARLES SHELDON’S IN HIS STEPS
August 22, 2012

Somehow this summer has just galloped away from me! So much so that I forgot July’s Book of the Month, and all but forgot August’s as well. The mere fact that no one jogged my memory about the omission makes me wonder how many of our readers are seriously into reading our selections. So belatedly, here is September’s selection.

“For hereunto were ye called: because Christ also
suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye
should follow his steps.”
1 Peter 2:21

1897 Edition

In 1889, a young minister named Charles M. Sheldon founded the Central Congregational Church of Topeka, Kansas. Profoundly convicted that it was long past time for Christians everywhere to forsake their doctrinal warfare against each other and instead—really study Christ’s example while on this earth: in short, our Lord’s example of humble selfless service for others. The 1890’s produced a veritable explosion of interest in Christ’s Didoche (one is saved, not by doctrine or creed, but by loving God with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and unconditionally loving and serving one’s neighbor)—and, of course, by the Cross.

1899 Edition

Sheldon couldn’t help but notice that Story was about the only thing that caused his parishioners to be faithful in their attendance, so he began packaging his Social Gospel sermons in story serializations. Presto! Church attendance swelled. Each chapter would conclude with a fictional cliffhanger of sorts—so people naturally had to show up for the next installment. The core of the story had to do with the question, What would Jesus do? were He faced with the same circumstances and decisions the parishioners were.

As Sheldon read his story to his congregation, a religious weekly of Topeka published it serially, gathering the chapters together in a paper-bound book in 1897. Within two years In His Steps went through five editions. In 1899, ten different publishers, finding a flaw in Sheldon’s copyright, and disregarding the central premise of the book, What would Jesus do?, unleashed a veritable torrent of new editions, not paying its author a dime. It was then pirated overseas as well. But one good thing resulted from all this chicanery: it became one of the best-selling books of all time. 115 years later, it is still selling.

1900 Edition

If you have not yet read it, now is the time! Do let me know what you think of it.

Sources:

Hart, James D., The Popular Book (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1963).
Mott, Frank Luther, Golden Multitudes (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1947).