This is the first Saturday in a while, and the last one for several weeks, that I don’t have anything planned. I am going to blog!
I’m trying to write some book reviews today. I’m about four reviews behind. I’m desperate to get them finished because I have a stack of books I really want to read; I’m under a self-imposed reading-new-books moratorium until I write these reviews.
Interruptions abound when I’m writing at home. I wonder if I can be more productive if I go to the library? I know the cool kids like to write while they sip lattes at Starbucks or Panera Bread, but I’m too much of a people-watcher for that to work for me. Plus, I like my home brew just fine. I guess the downside for writing at the library is that I can’t take my favorite mug.
So, I’m writing from home where I just overheard this exchange between Karl and one of the boys: “Who opened this package of toilet paper?” Boy: “I did.” Karl: “Come here….do you see anything wrong with this?” (I assume they are both looking at the rolls of toilet paper scattered on the bathroom floor from the boy’s haphazard package opening.) Boy: “I didn’t put the toilet paper in the thing.” Karl: “Yeah. Why don’t you do that now? If you do something the wrong way the first time, and you notice it when you do it, then save us all some time by fixing it immediately rather than waiting for me to say something.”
If I write anything worth reading today it will be a miracle.
You can take a look at my “Reading” page to see what I’ve been reading so far this year. This will also give you an idea for what reviews to be looking for from me on Discerning Reader. I have a few things on my mind that I’d like to deposit here as a way to clear my thoughts and loosen up my fingers.
I’ve received a few emails about my thoughts on Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. I ordered it a couple of weeks ago. Have I read any of it? No (see reading moratorium above). I have been a reader of her blog for a very long time, though, so when I do read and review her book I hope no one will say that I don’t “know her heart.”
I have noticed, however, that her blogging this past week has been reduced to quotes and photographs. Maybe she’s just too busy to write much for her blog, but I’m afraid that she’s been hurt by the negative reaction to some of her words. That makes me sad because I really like the “Ann Voskamp” portrayed on her blog and I know that there’s a real Ann Voskamp somewhere behind it.
As someone who writes, I understand better now how one’s words are so much a part of the person who wrote them. It’s a rare day that readers’ comments (or the absence of comments) do not affect me. Positive feedback buoys me; affirmation is like a drug.
On the other hand, as a reviewer, I understand how a less-than-favorable response to a book is not meant to be an attack or a declarative summation of the author as a person.
The author’s fans only compound the issue because they take the criticism personally, too. And for good reason: If there’s something wrong with this, and I love it, then what does that say about me? So fans enter the discussion with the who-gave-you-the-corner-on-truth and the you-just-don’t-get-him/her trump cards.
I’ve been reviewing books and blogging for a while now. It’s taken a few years, but I understand so much better, after receiving feedback from authors and fans, that it is indeed nearly impossible to separate a person’s words from the person herself. Jesus said that our words are an overflow of what’s in our hearts (Luke 6:45). We lack the skillful care to separate the two. Attempting to explain, “It’s not personal,” just doesn’t help. The reality is that a negative review, though not at all intended to be personal, is taken personally because an author is so intimately attached to his or her book.
Therefore, it is up to the author to let the book go, to allow it to take on a life of its own.
We (people) cannot effectively separate the joints from the marrow, the soul from the spirit, but the Word can (Heb. 4:12). If another book’s words do not accurately and purely reflect that Word, then it is right to point it out for the good of the author and the readers. The only thing a reviewer can do is point to that Word, remind readers to look there foremost, and allow God’s Word to do what it does. Comment forums are weak mediums for building convincing arguments, but God’s Word has the power to teach and change minds. I am encouraged by the apostle Paul’s attitude toward those who disagreed with him. Rather than arguing (in his letter to the church at Philippi), he simply wrote and trusted God with the results, saying, “if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you” (Phil. 3:16).
I need to wrap this up so I can work on my reviews. Here are a few important things to remember:
1. The author had the entire book to make him/herself clear. After going through the publishing process, if a book is still muddy…well, that’s just too bad. It is unfair to require a reviewer to be familiar with everything an author has previously written. Not having read all previous books, articles, blog posts, etc., does not disqualify another person from making a judgment. If the author has more to say now that her critics are speaking out, or if she feels the need to clarify her words, then she’ll have to write a second edition or an addendum.
2. Few books are written in a vacuum. Authors have a team working with them in order to produce the best book possible: friends, family, editors, agents, all read a book before its published. In Voskamp’s case, if a dozen people read her book and no one raised concern over the “make love to God” portion, then perhaps she needs to widen her circle to include people who do not think the same way she does.
3. Whether you love a book and its author or not, whether you agree with a reviewer or not, always submit to God’s Word whether you like it or not. God’s Word is the plumb line, true north, the tuning harp, (insert your favorite metaphor here). Any truth claims that do not line up will lead you astray or into confusion, so be careful about which messages you incorporate into your life. There are plenty of books that I read that contain elements that do not perfectly line up with God’s word. Does that mean I discard the whole book? Not always. Learn to discern the good from the bad. “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21), and leave the rest.