Judging by the cover
Earlier this week the University of Illinois Press sent me an advance copy my southern gospel book. Here I am holding the thing itself in my hands for the first time.
Riveting stuff, eh?
Ok, so Ansel Adams it ain’t, but it was (for me) a strange experience: equal parts relief, satisfaction, queasiness, and vertigo. As a literary critic, I regularly teach and write from the knowledge that the work of art or music or literature or criticism becomes a separate entity from its author once it’s launched off into the great wide open. And of course, blogging or writing scholarly essays or publishing magazine articles is a variation on this experience writ small: relatively low-stakes but nevertheless very vividly felt experiences of sending words out in the world to be one’s ambassador. So standing on the threshold of my own book being inflicted upon the world is more a difference of emphasis than of kind from my life in publishing so far.
Still, this book represents not just a really big chunk of my intellectual, professional, and emotional existence over the past three or four years. It is (as books are wont to be) also deeply intertwined with my sense of myself intellectually, autobiographically, and psychospiritually.
One of the prefaces to the shape-note gospel songbooks I deal with in the book’s second chapter (Dortch’s Gospel Voices No. 1, published by C.H. Robinson and Co. in N.C. in 1895, to be exact) has a wonderful line in it by the book’s editor and chief songwriter. Toward the end of the preface, after describing the merits of his book, the author closes with a Chaucerian-style direct exhortation to the book itself:
Go thou, and do thy work! Strengthen the weak, comfort the sorrowing, bind up the broken-hearted, lift up the fallen, save the lost, and when thou returnest lay many precious sheaves at the Master’s feet.
With apologies to Greg Kihn and Co., they just don’t write ‘em like that anymore.
I’m not sure I’d want to make such lofty claims for my own book, but at a certain level I get where he’s coming from, I think, and understand the giddy sense of anticipation and possibility about one’s work in the world, laced with a thread of anxiety (maybe no one will like it; maybe no one will even read it), which in turn induces a slightly overextended set of claims about the potential significance of one’s own words (Dortch’s is a good songbook, but it’s not all that … I mean, whose work - at least among us mere mortals - could be, really?). And yet, and yet …
Anyway, if you pre-ordered a copy of Then Sings My Soul, or order a copy now, it should ship within the next few weeks.Email this Post