Reading with charity
Sounds easy enough, after all, who doesn’t love a good book?
Actually? I didn’t. That is, I wanted to love a good book, but I was convinced they were few and far between. I believed it when people told me children’s books published after 1950(ish) were not really worth the paper they were printed on. At least, with few exceptions. “Modern” books contained awful messages for children and were dangerous in the many ways they silently waged war on the young person’s psyche.
Friends, this just isn’t true. And its cynical to even suggest it. And violates the first principle of book reviewing: use charity.
Gosh this seems elementary, doesn’t it? I mean, we’re Christians and without charity we’re just a clanging gong. So let’s review, ‘kay?
Authors may differ from us in their background and opinions. In fact, chances are good that many authors do! That doesn’t necessarily mean a book is lacking in any merit. Books should be judged, says Gardiner, “on [their] own merits, literary, doctrinal, and historical.” (12). That is, remember that you are reviewing the book: not the author, not the time period in which the book takes place, nor the time period in which the book was written.
I am not arguing that audience shouldn’t be kept in mind. What is appropriate for a fully formed adult may not be appropriate for a 16 year old may not be appropriate for a 10 year old may not be appropriate for a 4 year old. I get that. You get that. Nothing wrong with that.
But say you hear about a dystopian trilogy in which a majority of the main characters are under 21. And say the woman who wrote it has different political viewpoints than you. And a different religious background from you. And perhaps she is just so different from you that you can’t imagine how someone “like that” could ever write a book “like that.”
Are her books, then, bad? Not necessarily. Maybe even not at all. Maybe, if you picked up the first book, and then the second, and finally the third you would find between the covers some very Catholic truths. And maybe you would find the books not inappropriate at all for the older kids in your household, but of course completely inappropriate for the 7 year old. And perhaps the trilogy turns out to be fantastic jumping off point for discussions on…charity.
So go ahead and pick up that book by that questionable author. And then go ahead and read it. With charity.
This is post is part of a series on how to judge a book based on Harold C. Gardiner, S.J.’s “Tenets for Readers and Reviewers.” Links to other posts in the series are can be found below.
Introduction: Judge a Book by More than its Cover: 5 tips
Tenet 2: Parts Don’t Condemn the Whole
Tenet 3: Sin looks like…sin