Have you ever loved a book, but also disagreed with it on some level? You were hooked, but...something about it grated on your spirit. Your soul felt raw and charged after reading it because your beliefs were under attack.
How do we deal with such bothersome books? We must figure it out for our own personal sanity. Some of us, like teachers, parents, librarians, book-reviewers and members of book-clubs must also decide how to review and whether to recommend books. The only thing to do is to form a careful opinion.
Settling it in Your Spirit
"We need to be really bothered once in a while." Montag said this in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451. He was referring to books; books should bother us. I couldn't agree with him more. Sometimes books affirm our
beliefs, and other times they test our beliefs; they even give us new ones! When considering a tough book, think about what exactly the author is saying. Don't just ban the book: pick it apart and mull over it. Wrestle with the points it makes. Think critically--you'll be glad for the effort. Study the subjects, and write down your thoughts. If you're a Christian, pray about it and study the biblical stance.It's okay to like a book, even if you disagree with it. It's the same way with people: you'll never agree with them on everything, but you can still appreciate and like them. Books are peoples' thoughts on a page. Powerful, popular authors have something to say, and they say it hard. You're expected to disagree with at least some of it.
The Recommendation QuestionSo how do we review books that bother us? Should we recommend them? Recently I read a book called Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore that gave me this problem. I struggled with rating it.
Bitterblue was fabulously written, from a craft standpoint. It's everything I like in a book--a strong heroine, multidimensional characters, grand adventure, high stakes, plot twists, political intrigue, magic, fantasy, love, visible imagery, fully-developed setting, and compelling mystery.
My problem lay with two of the author's agendas. They can be summed up with the phrase "sexual sins." As a Christian, I have very strong opinions about sex. It bummed me out that the author (whom I greatly respect) so forcefully pushed my boundaries. I won't go very deep into it, because that's not the purpose of this blog, but I'll briefly explain my problem. Cashore pressed her readers to accept two ideas: that it's just fine to have sex before marriage, and that homosexuality is normal and right. I can't just ignore what the Bible says on these topics. If you'd like to know why I believe what I believe, please email me, and I'd be glad to explain. More than glad--thrilled.
So how am I supposed to review this book?
Recently I asked a dear friend about how to review books that give me this problem, and this was her advice: Be honest.
And I will be. Bitterblue was a beautiful book about a young queen trying to help her country heal from it's terrible past. It grated on a few of my moral sensibilities, but I enjoyed it very much despite that. Books are written to make us think. I gave the presented issues some thought. Eventually I decided Bitterblue deserved four stars, rather than five, simply because I think the author is wrong about one of her minor subplot-agendas.
As far as recommending it to people, I will tell them the same thing as I did in my review. Fantsay-lovers will probably like this book.
If you would like to read my review of Bitterblue, click on the book on my bookshelf to the right of the page.
Tip: Reviewing books is generally easier if you can separate the reviews into sections: 1) writing craft, 2) how you liked it, and 3) its message. Or something like that. That way, you can give it the full respect it deserves!
Scribblers and Book Bandits: do you ever struggle with books in this way?