Book Buyers Turn over New Leaf PUBLISHING TRENDS

Article excerpt

JAN KOK describes a cartoon he posted on the wall of his office: A pastor is shown in a church, preaching to a congregation of only two or three - but at the bookstore next door, people are lining up to get in to buy books on spirituality and religious topics.

"The churches are getting empty, but people go for spiritual books," says Mr. Kok, director of the publishing arm of the World Council of Churches in Geneva.

Europe is, to a certain extent, following a trend that has been evident in the United States for some time: seeking spirituality in a bookstore.

The spirituality trend was only part of the buzz at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the word's largest, earlier this month.

This year's gathering focused on hot new markets, such as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Asia, and Latin America. New electronic formats - CD-ROM, interactive video, books on-line - attracted plenty of attention.

Yet some publishing experts are looking for spirituality to become an even hotter topic soon.

Europe adds a twist

The spirituality trend, or trend in the making, is playing out differently in Europe than in the United States. Europe hasn't experienced the same enthusiasm for books on angels, for instance, as the US, or for books that might be described as "spiritual self-help."

A Scandinavian religious publisher says that some Christian writers, like best-selling American author Frank Peretti, have not done well in his part of the world.

But as Kok notes, "When I visit friends who don't go to church, I see religious books on their coffee tables." He adds however that he sees "less interest in Christian spirituality, more in New Age."

Some of those books may be there for social rather than theological reasons. Kok points out that in places like his native Netherlands, it is the custom to bring flowers or a small gift when one is invited to the home of friends for dinner. For such an occasion, a small picture book featuring one of the Psalms, for instance, could be just right.

Still, "Europe is a place where serious theological books can get onto the bestseller list," according to Kok. He cites the works of Eugen Drewermann in Germany, a controversial Roman Catholic priest who has been, in Kok's term, "corrected" by the Vatican. One of Drewermann's latest projects is a speaking tour on the life of the 16th-century Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake.

And the new Catholic catechism turned out to be a surprise bestseller in France last year - along with Pope John Paul II's book, which was a bestseller in many countries. …