Sunday, November 9, 2008

Dissing a Popular Book

Normally I blog about books I like and recommend, but here I go with a discussion of one I do NOT care for. I am doing this even though I know the book I am criticizing is one that is enormously popular right now. When I read, I like to share my comments and reactions, and just now finished a column by Stephen Abram called “Promoting Reading Using This 2.0 Stuff” in which he reminds us that reading is a social activity. So true! When I finish a particularly good book, I usually want to talk about it with somebody. Even if I do NOT like a book I tend to want to see if others agree with my judgment. Since almost all my close friends and family are avid readers, there are lots of opportunities to share. My favorite book buddy right now is my 96 year old dad. Often I pick up something because I think he will like it and then we both read and discuss. My daughter is also a reader and we often find ourselves reading out loud to one another, even over the phone.

As Stephen Abrams points out, blogging is a natural way to share discussion about books and reading, and while most of my comments in this blog are about technology, I do still like to cast nay or yea votes about books I read. Actually I almost never write about a book I did NOT like, since I seldom finish something that does not bring me back again and again. But I recently made an exception. Channeling my dog Ringo and also Cracker, the Best Dog in Viet Nam, I have to pronounce The Shack pretty “arf arful.” The reason I persisted and (thankfully) just finished the book is because a relative has been very taken with it and wants to discuss it with me. I might add that my dad reports liking it also, as does his caregiver. Not me. A lot of people criticize this book for its “theology,” and it is certainly Christianity lite. People are wanting to elevate this little tale to a level that deserves study and deep discussion about the nature of the Trinity. Some have called it “today’s Pilgrim’s Progress.” Oh please. Bunyan may be hard to read today, but in his time he certainly had mastery of the English language that caused his book to endure. He did not use the same adjectives over…and over… and over. He did not write dialogue that would make one think of an eighth grader with minimal skill.

I would like to add that I am not particularly put off by the quirky rendition of the trinity offered in this book, but it does not resonate with me either. I am not offended by the book on religious terms from any standpoint. It is fine with me if people want to take flights of fancy with any religion. I don’t think humans have a lock on Truth or even a tenuous grip. Here is what turned me off: THE ABYSMAL WRITING. Word choice, description, and especially dialogue, are all horrendous. I just never was able to get past that deficiency. I even took to making notes on my Kindle to tag especially irritating locutions. Here are some comments I recorded: “’thingy’…he actually used the word ‘thingy’…aruggh,” and “smirked—he just smirked at God? I don’t think so!” and so on. I am also irked by the promotion of what he called “The Missy Project.” As one critic pointed out, the project is not to help people grieving the loss of a loved one, or maybe to help find missing children. No! It is to help sell more books so everyone can have the experience of reading this tale. I know someone who reads this may be a Shack fan—my understanding is that the are legion. Feel free to take me to task! I am going to stick to my view. Nothing written this badly could be that good.


  1. You rock. I'm glad you finished it. I always appreciated it when someone in my book group would read at least most of the book, even when they didn't like it, and be ready to discuss those issues. Sometimes their minds were changed and sometimes not. I was the only one not particularly taken with the Kite Runner, but it made the discussion more interesting.

    I think if the content is worthy, even sub-par writing can be excused (thinking of Getting Things Done here), but you're spot on that in a story like this it's pretty inexcusable.

    Another reason I'm glad you finished it and thoughtfully dismissed it is that it reminds us what is good and what we do like. I had a professor in college that wanted to edit the "anti-Norton anthology" to show us examples of popular but less-than-good writing of the day when the other anthologized pieces were written to give their greatness more context.

    The Shack will make you appreciate something by Marilynn Robinson even more, for example.

  2. Great example of how not to write.