Beyond Bonnet Books

Quaker straw bonnet by John Hall original size

I’d like to paint a picture for you, dear reader. You walk into the bookstore; the smells of coffee, pressed paper, and coppery money hit you. You’re just browsing today, so you stroll through the center aisle, stopping to glance at the displays of Thomas Kinkade jigsaw puzzles and coffee table books like slabs of meat composed of pictures. You keep strolling, further and further back, until you reach the last section, the one shoved off to the side of the coffee shop, tucked into the shadows of the walkway on the second floor. A sign reads Christian Fiction above the section. You walk over and what hits you in the face with the force of ten thousand frilly aprons? Bonnets. Everywhere, bonnets. Big white bonnets, dainty blue bonnets matching the gingham dresses of the girls on the front covers, black bonnets with sheer veils fit for a funeral. Good mother of Batman, the bonnets.

A few weeks ago, I enlisted a friend to help me go to three of the biggest bookstores in Albuquerque to do a simple, very non-scientific task—count bonnets. We went to two large chain stores and the only independent Christian bookstore remaining in the city. We counted bonnets in the Christian fiction sections.
Here’s what we found:

CC image by John Hall

CC image by John Hall

TOTAL BOOKS IN CHRISTIAN FICTION SECTIONS:
Barnes & Noble: 258 books
Hastings: 905 books
Bibles Plus: 849 books

TOTAL BONNETS ON FRONT COVERS:
Barnes & Noble: 49 bonnets
Hastings: 96 bonnets
Bibles Plus: 66 bonnets

The total numbers of books above reflect individual titles, rather than copies of the same title. Additionally, we did not count copies of bonnets, meaning that if there were three copies of the same title, we only counted the bonnet of the girl on the cover once. Therefore, when I say “49 bonnets,” I mean individual titles featuring a woman in a bonnet, a bonnet in a meadow of dandelions, or just a giant bonnet on a white background on the front cover.

It’s also worth mentioning that we didn’t count feathered tea hats, shawls, or bridal veils toward this total, though we did count them just for kicks and giggles. The only hats represented here are honest-to-God bonnets.

Now, what do the above numbers mean? If we do some rudimentary math, rounding up to simplify, we discover this:

PERCENTAGE OF CHRISTIAN FICTION BOOKS W/BONNETS ON FRONT COVERS:
Barnes & Noble: 19%
Hastings: 11%
Bibles Plus: 8%

How about them apples? Barnes & Noble especially—for every fifth book I pick up off the shelf in the Christian fiction section there, one of them will have a bonnet on the front cover. Yowza.

Now, you may be a fan of bonnet books. I have no qualms against those individuals who await book seventeen of the Amish Sisterhood of the Traveling Starched Collars series. There are thousands of people who enjoy them. Why else would Christian presses publish them? Publishing a book is not cheap (in case you didn’t know), which implies that bonnet books appear in waves of knotted and bowed glory because they sell. But as a Christian writer who is not into butter-churning or the importance of husbandry in early 19th century Pennsylvania, I’m compelled to ask the question: where are the other genres?

We looked into the genre question too, also very non-scientifically. We pulled books off the shelves, took a look at the covers or breezed through the descriptions on the backs, and counted the genres represented. The genres most represented were: historical fiction (bonnets!), mystery (a few bonnets), romance (lacy bonnets), thriller, and what I like to call “end of days” books (you know the kind). The genres underrepresented? Take a guess. Fantasy, science fiction, and literary fiction. I’m just speculating here, but it sure looks like Christian publishers are still afraid of the danger of magic, technology, and serious shit on the delicate psyche of Christian consumers. Why do I assume it’s the publishers? Well, because I know Christians write these types of books. They’re out there, and some of them are my closest friends. I’m one of them—these three genres are the three genres I write. Sucks to be me.

It seems that we Christian authors who don’t write bonnet books are put into a quandary—it’s awfully difficult to consider going with a Christian publisher when our genre doesn’t appear in that section of the bookstore. Our options? Go incognito with secular publishers, self-publish, or go with small Christian presses that are willing to take a risk on us. These are perfectly acceptable alternatives, but I still long for the day when I walk into the Christian fiction section and instead of being bombarded by bonnets, I see spacesuit helmets, swords dripping with blood, and long locks hanging free in all their tangled glory.

How about you?

(The word “bonnet” appears thirty times in this post; see, it’s annoying, isn’t it?)

By Madeleine Mozley