Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Question!

This morning's dilemma:

I'm reading a book that I have mixed feelings an author with a public platform I don't care for at all.  And I'm trying to figure out if I want to review the book publicly, and if so, how.

So I'm requesting your wisdom/opinions/thoughtful comments.

The author is not someone I know or have any connection to. We don't share a publisher, publicist, agent, or even (so far as I know) friends in common. I'm not under any obligation to review this book. My issue is not with the writing--the writing is great. It's more questions along the line of "what does this add to the conversation?" and "why are you building your career out of making fun of/criticizing how other people live their faith?"

Actually, that's the crux of it, right there: I'm bugged by Christians who develop a public platform out of making fun of and/or criticizing other believers. Partly because making fun of Christians is like shooting fish in a barrel--it's a a bit lazy. And I'm a little tired of Christians railing at their pasts without offering some insight of the future God is drawing them toward. (Which is part of why I love authors like Shauna Neiquist and Enuma Okoro, because their books are both/and, rather than, Hey, I'm mad!)

But do I have any business voicing this opinion, or should I just keep it to myself?

Here are the options I see:

1. Shush, Trish. I should shut up, stay in my lane, write about the issues I care about in the hopes that those words will encourage others...and if someday I've reached enough people that others make fun of and/or criticize me, I'll have this awesome practice in graciousness & keeping my mouth shut!

2. WWMDD? (What Would Michelle Duggar Do?) I should post a very nice review about something in the book I enjoyed. Michelle Duggar is unfailingly lovely in every situation (honestly--she kept a positive attitude through a gall bladder attack),  and finds good in everything she sees. I admire this. I suspect that there's a fair amount of self-training/self-control that goes into happiness, and being determined to see the pony--rather than the pony poop--is a smart life choice.  In this case, I think Michelle would find some things to praise in the book (and there are some nice moments) and blog about those, keeping negative thoughts to herself.

3. Have at it.  I should review the book with candor and honesty, acknowledging the good points and the larger problems I think this project represents about Christian publishing. I review all kinds of books on my blog, particularly ones that contain elements of faith.  I work hard to write books myself, and earn part of my living helping other writers navigate when & how they publish their stories.  So it's not out of line to offer my opinion on the choices made in this book and by this author.

Perhaps what this comes down to is: Can speaking up make a difference? I don't want to use this blog to vent. But I want to change the way books about faith are generated--to suggest that when God gives me or you a book to write, we should put in the time and and effort to shoot for excellence.

What do you think?


Melanie said...

The phrase that is ringing through my head is "responsible to, not for". This could play out in the ways you mentioned...or a private email to the author if you feel so inclined. But you aren't responsible for their (or your readers) reactions.

James Patrick Conway said...

Always #3, never be afraid to rock the boat and God would want you to be honest with yourself and your readership. I would argue you haven't played it safe or been overly self conscious in the memoirs so why do that on the blog?

(on another note, is this the book I think it is?)

Corina said...

I'm not sure (I realize that this isn't very helpful). There are certain Christian blogs that are kind of funny but primarily exist to make fun of people. I do think it's lazy to poke fun at other people instead of talking about the way you screw up (I think your testimony and the way you tell stories should mainly be about what God is doing in YOUR life and not about others). So I don't read those blogs anymore even though I think they are talented.

That being said, I don't think you would be doing the same thing if you are reviewing a book. If someone took the time to write a book then we should be able to discuss it. I don't think you would be heartless about it and I think you are honest enough to show your own mistakes and that's why I feel like you could cover it. If you weren't a self-reflective kind of person than I would say no.

Jon Putnam said...

I was always taught that "real writers have something to say." Do you have something to say?

Some diagnostic questions:

1. Can you generalize the discussion from the author's personal failure to one that many people experience or are tempted by? ("Some people gossip" is better than "she gossips")

2. Can you generalize without denying personal responsibility? ("We all gossip" is better than "some people gossip")

3. Can you identify with the sin ("I gossip" better than "we all gossip")?

4. Can you acknowledge concrete, not abstract, sinfulness ("I gossiped" is better than "I gossip")?

5. Can you demonstrate that God's kindness has led you to repentance (a changed mind) with respect to that sin ("In my heart of hearts, I gossiped because I was jealous, and I was using 'the truth' as a weapon")?

6. Can you dispassionately separate the wheat from the chaff in what the author is saying, or otherwise help her pull in the speck from her eye ("I admire her forthrightness about Ms. X, but I think it would be more effective if it were couched in terms of Y")?

7. Can you restate an underlying Biblical truth (not necessarily quoting chapter and verse) in a way that points your audience towards God's point of view and not to a comparison of two human views ("When Jesus said, 'Go and sin no more,' he neither shrank from calling sin 'sin' nor did he rub the woman's nose in it")?

And, in the Internet age, I'd add another one: can you wait 24 hours before posting? I find that most of what I write (almost surely including this post) deserves to be substantially modified after: a night's sleep / the ebb of emotions has passed / "further adventures with God."

KimberlyH said...

Lately, I've been taking notice of a lot of (negative)criticism and cynicism lately - at work, on blogs, on TV. It gets a little much after a while. And I don't want to be a cynical person and I don't want it to affect me.
I pray often that God would keep my heart soft, keep me hoping for, and working towards the best in the future.

I know there is a lot out there in the world that I could/would be critical about. I suppose we all pick our battles and choose the things we want to get riled up and vocal about.

I do notice that I respond better (respect more, more apt to listen/watch/read) people who focus on positive ideas, rather than those who are mainly critical.
Criticism tells me what isn't working and what not to do. That is limited help to me.
I'd rather hear a positive suggestion of what to do. (Or at least the latter with the former.)

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your dilemma and would like to add one more variable for exploration. Your reviews and writings have delightfully directed me to many bloggers, writers, and events otherwise unknown.
So another question is- what do your followers expect from you or phrased another way, what, if any, is your obligation to your followers?
Your voice is of an honest viewpoint or questions, filtered via your faith, with reminders to seek and find the good.
I might not read the publication in question if you didn't rave about it, or perhaps I would still read it, to explore and further define what is fulfilling for me.
Be honest. Be kind. Stay true to your voice. Your readers may or may not agree- but that is our path.