Tuesday, September 29, 2015

When NOT to Write a Book Review



Believe it or not, there are occasions when writing a review of a book you've just read isn't appropriate.

But that means missing a chance to give your opinion! And some poor, unsuspecting reader might be lured to the pit of destruction if you don't warn them!

No. No, they won't. And I'm sure if you think really hard, you can find something else to give your opinion on. I know I never run out of ideas. :)

Book reviews must always be written with professionalism, courtesy, and kindness: professionalism in evaluating the good and bad without fear; courtesy in giving room to other people's opinions on the matter; and kindness in making sure you're speaking the right words at the right time. If one of these key elements is missing, your carefully written review will accomplish nothing you had hoped it would.

So here are three situations where writing a book review may not be a wise idea:

When the author's been blasted enough.
I once read a book I really didn't like. (Only once?) It was written with good intentions, but the style and execution were far from good. But as I read reviews, I realized the author had gone on to write other books that were better, and everything I would have said had been said multiple times by multiple other people. It would not have been necessary, helpful, or kind to rehash ancient history, and it wasn't a matter of doctrine. So I moved on.

When it would damage a friend's experience.
You'll always be at odds with someone's opinion. As young George Emerson says in A Room With a View, you can't stand where you are without casting a shadow in someone else's sun. But you can do your best not to cast that shadow in an offensive or discouraging way. The book may not have meant much to you. But if, for one of your friends, it was the book, and you know that for sure, then go ahead and refrain. The world will be OK. The church of Christ won't collapse without your review. And you'll have done a good deed, which is much better.

When your own heart is not right.
It is possible to read a book with pre-conceived resentment and dislike; it's not fair to bring that into a review. When you look in your heart, only you know when you have an axe to grind. Don't grind that axe.  I've had various paragraphs I've not included in my reviews that bring up very good points, simply because I can't say them with the right spirit. Also, don't target particular people in your reviews. You can target groups of people who hold to a particular thought, but never just one person. It isn't appropriate to attempt to rebuke or change the heart of a specific friend or author in a public setting. In all these things, God needs a pure and humble heart to work with, not a spirit of intelligent arrogance. Pray and search your heart before you click that publish button.

Book reviews won't be perfect. I know this blog isn't. There have been times where I posted something for the wrong motives, or didn't fully understand a book, or could have been more gracious than I was. And I'm sorry for that. But at the same time, it's OK to have a learning process. We learn kindness and graciousness as we go along. Striving for that professional kindness is the end goal: making these things the Grand Ideal that you don't always hit, but you try to.

Book reviews have power to shape opinions. Use that power wisely. Not every book you read is one you have to write a review about.

11 comments:

  1. Really, really good post. Well done.

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  2. You have some great points, Schuyler! What your saying also applies to other parts of blogging, I believe. I've appreciated what you said and have learned from it. I hope I can continue to learn through my blogging; It can be so easy for me to bring my 'axe to grind' into my posts, etc., and sometimes it's hard to distinguish if what I'm saying is necessary or if I'm saying it for the wrong reasons--sometimes it's so plain and sometimes it's so hard to figure out my motives.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this! You did a fantastic job of explaining it. I can tell that you are a deep thinker--I really appreciate that.

    Love,
    Lizzy

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    1. It's always good to put forward your viewpoint with passion! After all, if you want to bring a good thing to people's attention, they'll believe you more if you believe in it yourself. :) But like you say, it takes discernment. Don't stress too much, though! Sometimes it's just having a perspective of being obedient to what God wants you to share with others, and He'll help develop good motives. :)

      Aw, thank-you for commenting. :) I always love your thoughtful additions!

      Love,
      Schuyler

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    2. Very true, Schuyler! Thank you. :D

      Love,
      Lizzy

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  3. For the record, Schuyler, this is wonderful.

    I was at a Voice of the Martyrs conference a week and a half ago, and one of the speakers, an Iranian pastor, very gently but clearly explained to us that we (the church in America) lack love. You have lots of truth, he said, lots of access to the truth, lots of resources for understanding the truth, but you must have truth and love, both of them together.

    Thank you for not forgetting that here on this blog.

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    1. Thank-you. ;)

      You know, we were talking about that same thing in BSF small group last week--how when a believer goes to a foreign country and the village comes to Christ, they have an unheard-of outpouring of love for one another and for Jesus. But in America, many Christians are curmudgeons in the name of truth. I think that's what confuses people--they think truth and love must therefore be separate, so they get rid of one or the other--but God wants both. And I hope His church in the West will grow in understanding that. Thank-you for sharing!

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  4. This was a great post, Schuyler, and it came at quite the right time too, as I've been figuring what books I'd like to review on my blog, etc. It can be a scary thing to bring your opinions and thoughts of another person's work and labor into a review, and sometimes I tend to overthink my reviews, like the world depended on my critique of that work - how silly I get sometimes! :D I appreciated your point on when your negative feedback will do little good except hurt, than it's better to stay quiet - and also I really loved what you had to say about one's attitude and motive for our reflections/reviews. Sometimes one can easily fall prey to writing and saying things out of a sense of pride, rather than humble realisation of our own weaknesses and failings.

    There is one review of a book in particular I'm holding back from writing until I really feel I've examined my thoughts and attitudes regarding it thoroughly - I think you might know what book I'm talking about as we had a lengthy discussion of it via email earlier this year ;).

    I'd like to just mention that I always love your reviews and how well-thought out, and reflective they are. I appreciate how you don't give vent to spiteful dislikes or frustrations with a book that you didn't like, but very calmly and quietly point outs its weakness in an edifying way. That's an art that's hard to master!

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    1. It can be scary. But you know, always keep in mind that people understand tastes will grow and change over time--so your opinion now doesn't have to be the opinion you hold forever. I've even seen people do reprise reviews of books they've read again from a different perspective, and that's totally fine!

      You take all the time you need to think. :) Better a thought-out word than a hasty one that one regrets! Wisdom and discretion are important in the online world as well as face-to-face. :)

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  5. So, I must admit I came into this post rather sceptical - I do tend to be wary when I see people telling others not to share their opinions on art. But I am so delighted to find that I could not be more wrong. This is such a beautiful and tactful post, and I know it is a reminder that I always find important to hear. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Schuyler; we mustn't forget them anytime soon. xx

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    1. I completely understand, Topaz! Sometimes posts about not writing book reviews can be a bit harsh and squelch open conversation. I'm glad you enjoyed this one! It was in my heart to encourage kindness--and I'm so glad it came across that way. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

      ~Schuyler

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