Lifting Moratoriums


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.

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9 thoughts on “Lifting Moratoriums

  1. One of the reasons that I enjoy your book reviews so very much is because of the sober, humble and unapologetic to measure all words against a final Word consideration you put into them. This post has helped clarify some of my own positive and critical thoughts towards the Voskamp book. Admittedly neither her blog nor her book are stylistically my cup o’tea. However, it is the many ambiguities regarding God’s Word as the ultimate truth that have made the drink unpalatable. I’m going to finish it because of the commitment I made to do so to the friends who asked me to read it. We are reading it alongside Scripture to both test our own understanding as much as discern hers.

    Thank you, Leslie, for your insight.

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    1. We are reading it alongside Scripture to both test our own understanding as much as discern hers.

      That’s a great way to practice and grow in discernment.

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  2. I appreciate what you said here. I’ve read some of the buzz and comments, and even commented in a more general way on a thread here and there – not so much on the book itself as I haven’t read it and don’t really want to – about judging anything we read by the Word. Because I had not even heard of the book before the blog world erupted over it this week, I kind of wish I’d stayed out of the conversations altogether since I wasn’t really addressing that book but being more general, and I really don’t want to be perceived as piling on criticism where I didn’t mean to be. I’ll be interested to hear your take on it whenever you get there. I think what many of the supporters may be reacting to is the mistaken assumption that if you at all question an author’s writing in light of possible misuse of scripture that you’re implying that author isn’t a Christian. I don’t think that any of those being critical meant to make that kind of judgment or to imply it, at least I hope not, they are just concerned that people be careful with the Scripture and how we use it and how we read other’s words about God in light of that Scripture. And as you pointed out, whether we like it or not, this is our plumb line – how well a teaching or truth claim or even poetical thought measures up to the Word. But, as you said, as a writer, our words are so personal, it is hard to separate criticism of the words from criticism of the person. Genuine believers CAN be in error, and it is loving to point out error in an effort to restore. But when that error is so wrapped up in our emotions, it is hard to hear the love in the warning. I haven’t read the book, so again, I’m speaking in a more general way. I really appreciate your ‘important things to remember.’ Thanks, Leslie.

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  3. I think you wrote several good things today. I really appreciate your adherance to scripture in reviewing books. I’m not up on the current book you are talking about, but I think your guidelines are good for any book. You’ve also given me some good ideas for talking with others about books that we’re reading that they don’t like or especially like. It seems sometimes they are reacting to a writer’s style rather than the content.

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  4. I read your post on Saturday, Leslie, but I have not had had time to look into Voskamp’s book. I have known about her blog for years, but like Elle, her style is not my cup of tea, so I really knew nothing about her book until recently. Most of the reviews I have read say it’s a great book, and one blogger said it was the best book EVER written for Christian women. The only balanced review I read was on Amazon. That review mentioned something that triggered a “red flag” response in me, so I don’t have plans to read the book. I can imagine, though, if it were me, and I had written a book that was so personal as this book was, I would probably wince at the criticism. You are correct, though, when you say that it is difficult to separate our words from who we are.

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  5. Yes. And amen. Great post and good thoughts. I too am a fan of your reviews and appreciate your commitment to the Word of God as the standard for truth in both the writing and the reviewing of books.

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