Contrary to misguided Yankee opinion, the Deep South has many people who are entirely literate, and we have libraries chock-a-block with books, just like the North. I was a talented reader before I came south, and I have carefully nurtured and maintained my reading skills in the face of invidious assaults on literacy by twitterers, txters, Sarah Palin and other idiots.
The Deep South also has religion in glorious excess, with churches outnumbered only by bars and strip joints. At the intersection of libraries and religion there dwells a phenomenon I have not observed in other civilized places - and that's saying a lot, since I have been to both Paris and Provincetown.
You will recall from your last library excursion that library books routinely bear little taped-on labels on their spine for those of us who lack the time to judge a book by its entire cover. (Some other time I will get to libeling library minions with hyperactive labeling glands who plaster over the book title or author's name. It is my thesis that compulsive labeling is a trait of the recently literate.) These spine labels drop books into convenient slots - B for biography, F for fiction, 793.734 for palindromes. Unless you're from around these parts, you probably didn't see a CF label last time you visited the New Books rack. I have concluded, based on a short sample, that CF stands for Christian Fiction. If this news does not set off little alarm bells in your head, this is probably not your blog and you ought to stop reading. There are swarms of places on the Internet labeled CB.
In the Largo Public Library, fully ten percent of the New Fiction section is labeled CF, much more than is devoted to, say, Danielle Steele bodice-rippers or Stephen King flesh-rippers. Heathen that I am, I like the CF label for the same reason I appreciate signs reading "Keep Out - Cholera." It hastens decision-making quite nicely. That brings me, however circuitously, to the topic of the day. CF folks have figured out that they are proselytizing to the pious, which is no way to pump up the population of paradise. To solve that problem, the pious are introducing a fresh new genre to the bookshelves: Stealth CF.
Stealth CF works like this:
Spine label: F
Title: "Deadly Target"
Author: Someone you never heard of
Book jacket synopsis: In 2015, world power has been seized by a fanatical religious cult bent on a return to the dark ages. To save civilization from intellectual dehydration, Jake Savage must penetrate a corrupt organization that . . ." Et cetera.
This is hackneyed socio-political thriller stuff for which I am a bit of a sucker.
Sure enough, as the story unfolds, the promised malevolent cult emerges. Hero Savage is a meat-and-potatoes Robert Langdon, laughing in the face of entrenched evil. Incensed at the malicious onslaught of the hyper-religious, hyper-hypocritical - if there can be such a thing - Church of the Apocalypse Now, Savage launches his one-man crusade to tame the excesses of the foul new regime and restore traditional morality - uh-oh - to the country, making it safe for every born-again Christian - uh-oh, uh-oh - to live a life in Christ and be baptized, not in the water but in the blood. A-a-r-r-g-h! Here I am 100 pages into a reasonably well-plotted page-burner when the Stealth CF alarm light finally flickers on. I am about to be saved against my will by a submarine Bible tract.
Several times now I have nearly been saved, but in each case have preserved my march to eternal damnation only by hurling the holy book into the flames of the library's all-night book drop. But the flesh is weak, and I will continue to read too much socio-political crap. From now on, though, I will read the last page first to make sure there are no legions of formerly heathen Newts marching triumphantly through the pearly gates.