What Would Jesus Read?: Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America

What Would Jesus Read?: Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America

by Erin A. Smith

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Overview

Since the late nineteenth century, religiously themed books in America have been commercially popular yet scorned by critics. Working at the intersection of literary history, lived religion, and consumer culture, Erin A. Smith considers the largely unexplored world of popular religious books, examining the apparent tension between economic and religious imperatives for authors, publishers, and readers. Smith argues that this literature served as a form of extra-ecclesiastical ministry and credits the popularity and longevity of religious books to their day-to-day usefulness rather than their theological correctness or aesthetic quality.

Drawing on publishers' records, letters by readers to authors, promotional materials, and interviews with contemporary religious-reading groups, Smith offers a comprehensive study that finds surprising overlap across the religious spectrum—Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish, liberal and conservative. Smith tells the story of how authors, publishers, and readers reconciled these books' dual function as best-selling consumer goods and spiritually edifying literature. What Would Jesus Read? will be of interest to literary and cultural historians, students in the field of print culture, and scholars of religious studies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469621326
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 04/13/2015
Pages: 410
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Erin A. Smith is associate professor of American studies and literature at the University of Texas at Dallas.

What People are Saying About This

Barbara Hochman Ben-Gurion University

A fascinating exploration of reading culture and religion in the United States, Erin A. Smith’s What Would Jesus Read is the most comprehensive account of popular religious fiction to date. Smith’s incisive analysis interrogates the idea of middlebrow reading by including forgotten readers of religious literature along with the books they turned to for solace, entertainment, and pleasure. Smith not only expands our understanding of novels that are often neglected in literary accounts, but also provides insight into the men and women who consumed them.

From the Publisher

A fascinating exploration of reading culture and religion in the United States, Erin A. Smith's What Would Jesus Read? is the most comprehensive account of popular religious fiction to date. Smith's incisive analysis interrogates the idea of middlebrow reading by including forgotten readers of religious literature along with the books they turned to for solace, entertainment, and pleasure. Smith not only expands our understanding of novels that are often neglected in literary accounts, but also provides insight into the men and women who consumed them." —Barbara Hochman, Ben-Gurion University

Lynn S. Neal

The scope of What Would Jesus Read? and the range of issues with which it grapples are impressive. I know of no other book that tackles these types of texts, and as Smith argues, these are the books that people read but scholars rarely study. In tackling this neglected topic in a coherent and compelling way, Smith has written an ambitious, informative, and inspiring book that will stand as a significant contribution to literary and religious studies.

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