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Leland Speaks To Urban Reader


Writer Christopher T. Leland, former Briggs-Copeland Lecturer of English, said his third and most recent novel, The Book of Marvels, was his easiest to write.

Leland, who currently teaches at Bennington College in Vermont, said in a telephone interview Saturday that the rough draft of his first comic novel took him only six weeks to write. Leland, who started the book in the spring of 1988, at the end of his lectureship at Harvard, said the story "told itself" to him.

"I simply started out with a snippet of telephone conversation. I didn't expect it to come that easily," Leland said. "I certainly can't ever count on it happening again."

The Book of Marvels, like Leland's earlier work, Mean Time is set in "Little Dixie," in a town called Rhymers Creek. It tells the story of Lila Mae, a woman entranced by televangelists and a little befuddled with modern life.

The author said he made a conscious decision to work with a character some consider stereotypical--a single Southern woman living by Christian television.

"One thing I hope the book does is have the reader say, `Sure, I recognize the type,' and see these types and recognize that these types are individuals," Leland said.

Leland said he believes televangelism is no longer just a Southern sociological phenomenon, but a symptom of much spiritual displacement in modern America. People under the influence of television ministries are not so much foolish as lonely and well-intentioned, Leland added.

"I think these people are not so different from the sophisticated urban reader as that reader might originally presume," he said.

Leland said he started the book shortly after the Jimmy and Tammy Fay Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals broke, at a time when he "had become fascinated with Christian television." Leland's fictional televangelists, Ted and Becky Standish, though meant to be reminiscent of the Bakkers, were not meant to be representative of them, he said.

Though the book satirizes the television phenomenon, Leland said he did not see that as the book's focus. He said the book was more of a story of "gentle" people and their lives.

"They display a kind of gentleness to each other that perhaps is not expected," Leland said.

"I think the story is one that cuts across economic and geographical lines," the author also said.

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