Friday, July 20, 2007

Slightly Off Topic but Very Important

Readers' Bill of Rights (Daniel Pennac)

1. The Right to Not Read
2. The Right to Skip Pages
3. The Right to Not Finish
4. The Right to Reread
5. The Right To Read Anything
6. The Right to Escapism
7. The Right to Read Anywhere
8. The Right to Browse
9. The Right to Read Out Loud
10. The Right to Not Defend Your Tastes


Sometimes the hardest "right" (in the Readers Bill of Rights) for me to own up to (live by) is the third one: the right to not finish a book.

Why is it so hard for me to set a book aside? To admit that it is just not for me? To admit that I made a mistake? To just realize that the book and I are not clicking, and that we're just not going to make a good match? Why do I feel the need to give a book not one chance to hook me, but seventy-times-seven chances? Why do I feel so guilty abandoning a book? Like I'm letting the author down.

What about you? How many chances do you give a book? If you're not hooked by the end of the first chapter, do you put it aside? Does it get five pages? ten pages? twenty? thirty? How much before you say that enough is enough? Everyone has their own set of unspoken rules or guidelines when it comes to reading...and I am curious to see if I'm the only one that feels *guilty* about not finishing a book.

The book that is bringing all of this to mind is Converting Kate by Beckie Weinheimer. (It is a book I borrowed from the TWU review center. A book that technically should go back for our next meeting on Monday.) From the very beginning, I've been underwhelmed by the style. There's nothing wrong with it by any means, but it's certainly not sweeping me off my feet. It's both passive and present. If that makes any sense at all. And the other thing that is irking me about this book is that it is stereotyping Christianity in so many ways that are just wrong, wrong, wrong.

I'll elaborate on one of my big pet peeves. In children's literature, 90% of the time faith and religion of the Christian sort falls into two extreme categories. Questionable categories at best if you're trying to qualify them as even belonging to biblical Christianity. On the one hand, you've got the extreme conservative sort. These are typically seen as strict, repressed, abusive, harsh, unbending, diatribe-filled, hateful, condescending characters. They're always characters that are *damaged* psychologically by their faith. In the case of Converting Kate, the extreme character is the mother. A mother that *wants* her daughter to wear only long skirts, no makeup, have her hair pulled-back, be a no-nonsense girl. A girl who is a "witness" to the faith and passes out tracts, etc. In almost every single one of these books, there is an alternative portrait of so-called Christianity praised and glorified. The other extreme presented is of the extreme-liberal variety. Here there is an embracing of agnosticism, a rejection of absolute truth, typically a questioning if not out right rejection of the bible or fundamental doctrines contained therein. Sin is dismissed altogether. Morals redefined or dismissed. Anything and everything goes. It's all one big love fest. Often it is more like John Lennon's song "Imagine" where there is no heaven or hell than anything found in the Bible. These so-called "Christians" are so afraid of "judging" or "offending" anyone that they stand for nothing whatsoever. They don't care what you do, how you live, what you believe, if you believe. They just want to welcome you through their doors. Neither extreme is healthy. And neither is what I would call biblical. Yet this is what authors write of Christianity when they address it at all. It makes me wish that if they didn't have anything nice to say they shouldn't say anything at all. Of course, I'm mainly talking about realistic, contemporary fiction. It makes me want to cry out that there should be some author some where that gets it, that understands what it means to be a Christian. It doesn't mean you judge everybody. It doesn't mean you're condescending. It doesn't mean you're hateful. Or disrespectful. It doesn't mean you carry signs or wear t-shirts protesting liberal ideas. Christians are called to love. And being loving and respectful are how they should be shown. But just because we're called to love shouldn't mean we compromise our beliefs. Any "Christian" portrayed as rejecting the Bible and dismissing absolute truth isn't really a good example of a Christian.

[The good "Christian" idolized in Converting Kate? By browsing and skipping I've figured out that he is your typical sort: agnostic, liberal, homosexual...and by the end....he's "fired" from his job for having gay porn downloaded on his office computer. The book hints that he is not really guilty of this last charge, but still...even so...not what I'd call your average role model.]