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  • Jason Cherry

Why Read Amateurs?

Amateur author

You will, no doubt, be given pause at the discovery that The Culture of Conversionism and the History of the Altar Call is self-published. If that strikes you as disappointing, then allow me to congratulate you on your incredulity. It isn’t without merit. Just recently, in fact, I was searching for a book about a particular historical subject and discovered that no professional historian had written on the subject. In its place was a book written by a layman, gracelessly self-published (or so I hastily judged). After given to great pause, my hypocrisy was instantly revealed to me and layers of self-loathing began unpeeling. What is at the root of our mythopoeic* reluctance to read history written by a nonprofessional? Is it our unblinking trust in professional historians? No, we are far too skeptical for that, as evidence by the very reluctance under investigation.

Permit me the attempt to pour oil on your hesitancy by borrowing a page from Robert Farrar Capon. I am an amateur, but “amateur and nonprofessional are not synonyms.” If you yawned your way through high school history class, the last thing the world needs is another history book. But would you deny that the world needs another lover? If your high school history teacher actually loved history, would you object to its study? The world “needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get.” The thing you need in a historical author is neither a professional nor a nonprofessional. Both can make wretchedly quick work of the most interesting topic, even the topic possessing all the necessary twists, turns, villains, heroes, and mysteries. Our response is to think that history is boring. That is both understandable and tragic. Your concern when picking up any book, especially non-fiction, should be to read someone whose love cannot be contained. He has to speak, to write, to share. The measure of difference between the delightful and the boring, between the book worthy of being read and worthy of a yawn is this: Is it done because of love?

*At the day of writing, this word happened to be the word of the day. It means “of or relating to the making of myths; causing, producing, or giving rise to myths.”

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