Saturday, November 15, 2008

Faith 'n Fiction Saturday!


Amy at "My Friend Amy" has started a fun new feature at her blog. Each Saturday she poses a question for us to respond to. I don't usually have time to jump in with my two cents, but this is one I really find intriguing:

The past couple of days there has been a big flare-up in the broader book blogging community regarding review policies and a blogger's obligation to an author once they've received a review copy. For those of you who belong to the blogging alliance FIRST, we've also discussed this issue a little bit.

I decided to make today's question about this, because I think this is an even tougher situation for Christian reviewers who review Christian books. So here you receive review copies of Christian books? If so, do you review them honestly? How do you handle it when you don't like a book but are obligated to provide a review? Who do you see your first commitment being to in book reviewing (besides God)? Yourself? The author? Your readers? Does your review change based on the spiritual content of the book or is it solely based on technical or artistic merit? Have you ever had a negative experience with an author after giving them a negative review? (please don't name names)

My Response:

Wow. First and foremost, my loyalty is to God. In everything I do, I'm to honor Him. In order to do this, I have to be honest...even when it hurts. I'm honored to receive a multitude of Christian books, non-fiction and fiction...from multiple sources.

I consider this my "pay". Obviously, I do what I do for the love of books, authors and publishers, as well as my readers. But books aren't cheap, and especially in their pre-published state (believe it or not!). So the least I can do is honor the book with a review.

No one will like every book they read. That would be boring. And ocassionally I find a book that doesn't float my boat: either because of the genre, the writing, or some element in the book that hits me wrong. I'm especially hard on non-fiction in the Christian marketplace, since we must back up what we teach with Scripture or it's merely man's opinion.

I try my best to stay focused on the book--never attacking the author, the reader, or the publisher. I review books. Period. I dislike reviews that make it personal and leave me feeling attacked because I enjoyed what they didn't like. To me, that's going a bit too far.

However, I have been taken to task twice by authors because I was honest in my review. Once, I pulled all promotional materials completely. I just didn't want to deal with the pettiness and accusations (you're the reason I didn't want to get into Christian fiction?? Please!).

Another ocassion was a misunderstanding, but my integrity was called into question. I seriously considered giving up reviewing all together. These are books, not people...we must remember that. And we must remember we get our theology from ONE BOOK and ONE BOOK ONLY--The Bible. Everything I read gets bounced off of Scripture---and yet we don't all interpret Scripture identically.

Hence, I won't debate issues here. That's not what I'm about. If I disagree theologically, you'll know it. About the book, that is--not the reader, not the publisher, and not the author. Just the book.

So, I try to be honest and tender in my reviews when I'm less than impressed. And I give praise where praise is due. I read a lot, so I'm fairly confident in my opinions, but I'm also wise enough to know I can be wrong for some people and their taste won't match mine.

If you disagree with my review politely, I'll allow your comment to stand. But if you're rude or obnoxious or spiteful...well, it's my blog, and I'll delete you. If you don't like it you have three choices:

1) Don't read my blog.
2) Realize we're all different and we all enjoy different things.
3) Start your own review blog.

Oh, and do NOT take me to task publically on theological matters. I will shut you down so fast you won't know you even left a comment here. This is a BOOK REVIEW BLOG, and nothing more. Make it personal, and you will be shown the door.

All things done in love here at My Bookshelf...or they won't be done at all.

If you answered Amy's question, leave me a link and I'll go check out your answer!

Happy Reading!



Andi said...

Way to go Deena!
Love ya!

Anonymous said...

I think this is spot-on, Deena. You have to be honest -- you can't be anything less and maintain integrity. Your book reviews won't mean much if they are all only flowery free commercials for the books.

I know a book can seem like one's own child, but I think authors have to be (or should be) mature enough to realize that their work will not resonate with everyone. It would be pretty egotistical to think everyone will like everything they've ever written. Really mature authors will look at a negative review (if it is constructive -- I know some people just "rant," but I have never seen you do that) will look on it as an opportunity to improve. An unbiased reader may catch mistakes or things that don't jive or things that don't come across clearly, and I would think most authors would want to improve in those areas.

But this is one reason I turn down offers to review books. I've received several, but the fear that I will have to point out something that I think is "off" keeps me from it. I just review books in my normal course of reading and not even all of those.

Shelley L. MacKenzie said...

Great response, and I agree with you totally. I haven't had a chance to post a response on this yet on my blog though.

But, like you said, we do need to be truthful and review the book, not the author, publisher or reader. You stated your opinion very well.

Kim said...

Oh Deena, great answer! I'll just leave a hearty a-men and invite you over to my WINDOW TO MY WORLD!

Amy said...

Deena, I love your third option to go start your own review blog...that is funny!

M. C. Pearson said...

Yes, I've had some authors not like what I've said. I hope I can be gracious when people hate my books! LOL. I only want to learn how to write better. You cannot learn by compliments alone. ;-)

I am SO glad that you are honest.

kalea_kane said...

Hey Deena! I enjoyed reading your answer. I also feel that if I am given a book to review it is the very least I can do as a courtesy. If I request a book from a publisher or author, it is kind of implied that I am going to read it and not just rest my coffee cup on it.
Anyway...the thing that really struck me was this quote
"I try my best to stay focused on the book--never attacking the author, the reader, or the publisher. I review books. Period. I dislike reviews that make it personal and leave me feeling attacked because I enjoyed what they didn't like. To me, that's going a bit too far."
I have read reviews like this about books that kind of made me feel like this person was judging me and my Christianity because I enjoyed a certain read. That ticked me off, but I also realized that it was a narrow opinion and I discontinued readinng at that blog.

That is why I do try to consider the reader as well as God, myself and the writer.

If you want to read my answer here is the link:

Sunny said...

Very well said (as always)! I also agree with you about reviews that seem to attack me because I like what they didnt. A "how could anyone like this" review is just destructive all around.

Wendi said...

I love the strength of your answer! Also agree with it!! Luckily I haven't had a negative experience with an author yet.

:) Wendi

I've got mine up late . . .
is my Faith 'n Fiction Saturday post.

Rel said...

I'm up with my thoughts :)

Always a pleasure reading yours :)

Lindsey said...

Ah, so that's why there's the disclaimer at the top of this comment form. ;-) hehe I really hope I never have to clash with anyone... I really try to be gentle and tactful when giving my opinion on a book. Really, I'm trying to imagine writing a book, then googling it and reading every review and responding negatively to someone who didn't like my book! lol It happens.

"And ocassionally I find a book that doesn't float my boat: either because of the genre, the writing, or some element in the book that hits me wrong."

Sometimes I wonder if it's just me when I don't like a book that others have liked. If I had picked it up at another time in my life, would I have seen it differently? Or if I wasn't so distracted by my six-month-old daughter would it have struck me differently? I just try to point out positives and then give my reaction to the book. Thankfully I've liked most of the books I've had to review so far! :-)

Here's my answer, a bit late:

God bless!