Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is It A Novel or An Excuse to Rant?

Over the years I've written a lot of book reviews which I post on Amazon, Goodreads, and other review sites. I try to be fair about doing this. I rarely post a negative review because if a book is that bad I won't finish it and I don't review books I don't finish. I also review books from time to time for a couple of review sites and for this blog. Authors have told me that I write good reviews and they appreciate insights that I offer. That is good to hear.

Lately I've read a couple of books that have puzzled me as to how to be fair in writing the reviews. Both of the books were “Christian” which is fine with me but which fell so far outside the parameters of Christian books I've read in the past that I'm dumbfounded as to how to be fair in writing about them. My experience with Christian books in the past was mostly sweet, charming romances or clever, cozy mysteries (the Liturgical Mystery series by Mark Schweizer are a hoot!) which had good characters, a decent plot, enjoyable writing, and a perspective that honored the author's (and presumably the reader's) beliefs. There was no foul language, no explicit sex (not even much implied sex), and some discussion of the characters' beliefs. This was fine with me. They were good stories that would appeal to readers who want a discrete read.

The problem for me is that recently the couple of books I have read, while calling themselves “Christian” are little more than a weak attempt at fiction designed to advance an agenda (in one case anti-abortion, in the other sex outside of marriage). I found both of them very hard to stick with and, frankly, I only finished them because I told the authors that I would. Now they want me to write reviews and, in all honesty, I don't know how to do this. It is hard to evaluate the merits of the books as literature while putting one's personal values aside. What I want to say is “these are not novels, these are excuses for ham-fisted agenda-advancing.” I believe in freedom of speech, I believe that we all have a right to have our say, and that, if we feel passionately about something, we have every right to express that. But there is no excuse for bad fiction writing. The novel is a sacred thing. It is one of the most enduring of all art forms, and one of the few forms of art with the power to change the world. The novel is the vehicle of choice for the likes of Emile Zola, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Harriet Beecher Stowe. And, while there are lots of bad novels out there, to me there is something blasphemous about using this exquisite art form as nothing more than a soapbox. Write an essay. Write non-fiction. Write a blog. But don't disguise your ranting as a novel unless you are actually writing a novel with characters and a plot and.... oh what the heck. I'm jousting at windmills here.

I suppose that there will always be individuals with strong feelings about a subject who get the idea, “I'm going to write a book about this so people will understand” and that's fine. Just, please, if you decide to advance your ideas in the form of a novel, state your case within the context of story and by that I do not mean long-winded speechifying. Please. I know we can't all be Dickens or Zola or Stowe but at least aspire to that. Okay?

Thanks for reading.

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