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I don’t know about accuracy here, but this morning I came across this claim: “Only 28 books sold more than 500,000 copies in the US in 2022. Eight of them were by romance novelist Colleen Hoover” [Jason Colvato on X]. Colvato goes on to claim that “the average book sells 200 copies” and the “average ‘bestseller’…2000.”

It’s hard to know exactly what to make of such statistics: do they point to a decline in the variety of books purchased? A domination of sales by books in the romance category (or those written by Colleen Hoover)? A lack of purchase of books beyond really popular books? A fractured market where people buy in their niche interests? A further move away from reading towards other entertainment and newer media?

I don’t know. I imagine that it could be all of those explanations and more. What I do know is that people ask me often for book recommendations. Probably my line of work, but it still feels like there is a real hunger to discover new books and new authors and new topics (or new approaches to old topics).

So, in the spirit of the new year and its resolutions, may I suggest that one amazing place to begin your reading journey for 2024 is at the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing‘s Festival of Faith & Writing Reading List.

The Festival, started in 1990 by the Calvin English department and run since 2016 by the Calvin Center for Faith & Writing, is back in person–after a cancelled for Covid 2020 FFW and a virtual “headliner” FFW in 2022. As one of the people that gets to help organize and put it on, I can’t tell you how excited we are to welcome people back this coming April 11-13 (with a new pre-conference workshop day on April 10).

As always, there is a stellar line-up of writers. Here’s just a tiny bit about the three plenary speakers:

  • Tracy K. Smith: Pulitzer-prizewinner, 22nd poet laureate of the US, memoirist, essayist, translator, librettist, Harvard professor
  • Yaa Gyasi: winner of multiple awards for best first novel, finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Fiction, New York Times bestseller, graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop
  • Anthony Doerr: also a Pulitzer-prizewinner, finalist for the National Book Ward, finalist for Novel of the Year at the British Book Awards, New York Times bestseller, five O’Henry Prizes 

And the opening plenary (free to the public) will feature both National Book Award nominee and Christianity Today Book of the Year for Children’s Writing award-winner Mitali Perkins AND NPR-based podcaster Rebecca Sheir and her marvelous production, Circle Round.

What sets the FFW apart, though, is the wonderful range of writers who come–writers from all kinds of faith perspectives who write in all the genres. Maybe you’d like to explore a few of these folks:

  • Casey Cep, now staff writer at the New Yorker, and her incredibly compelling investigation of Harper Lee’s never finished second novel and the true crime story that surrounded it 
  • Danielle Chapman, more usually a poet, but more recently the author of a compelling memoir about growing up in a military family in the South (but about much more than that!)
  • Sonya Bilocerkowycz and her timely essays on Ukraine
  • Matthew Dickerson who is an expert in both computer science and various kinds of high level math but also on Tolkien and Old English and fantasy literature but also on nature and the environment!
  • Ruth Graham and her work as a New York Times reporter covering faith as her beat
  • M.T. Anderson, wide-ranging children’s and young adult author—everything from Shostakovich to dystopias, the American revolution to fantasy adventure
  • Meghan O’Gieblyn, journalist and essayist, in provocative works like Interior States and God, Human, Animal, Machine
  • Patrick Reyes, author of The Purpose Gap, a profound look at leadership
  • Traci Sorell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, who writers innovative historical and contemporary fiction and nonfiction for young people. 
  • Sarah Hurwitz, former speechwriter for the Obamas, whose fascinating book examines her return to Judaism
  • Asma Uddin who writes insightfully about Islam and religious liberty 

And there are 50+ more authors that we’ll be featuring! What’s more: they’ll be in conversation with each other. That’s so rare in American culture today–but it’s been a hallmark of the Festival for over 30 years.

In addition to that three-day feast, we’re also adding a Workshop Wednesday where participants can have a smaller, hands-on experience with writers, editors, and critics (delicious heavy appetizers?). Whether it’s an all-day experience with Suzanne Stabile on the Enneagram or with Caitlin Horrocks on the power of revision OR a half-day focused on producing a chapbook, becoming a more empathetic reader/viewer, succeeding in the publishing world, writing diverse characters, constructing excellent picture books, and much more, I’m excited about these fabulous opportunities. And, if you only have time for a workshop, Workshop Wednesday is separately ticketed from FFW (though you get a discount if you attend both)!

People may indeed be reading a smaller and smaller selection of books. But you can counter the trend by expanding your reading list with help from the CCFW.

And you can register here for the Festival and Workshop Wednesday! We hope you’ll come and join the festivities. It’d be an easy resolution to achieve in 2024!

Photo by Tom Hermans on Unsplash

Jennifer L. Holberg

I am professor and chair of the Calvin University English department, where I have taught a range of courses in literature and composition since 1998. An Army brat, I have come to love my adopted hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m also the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture. My book, Nourishing Narratives: The Power of Story to Shape Our Faith, was published in July 2023 by Intervarsity Press.


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