Book Reviews: The Christian Dilemma
by Narelle Atkins
Have you ever wondered why the majority of Christian fiction reviews are positive and tend to have 4 or 5 stars on review sites like Amazon? At first glance, you may assume that Christian fiction must be excellent or that Christian reviewers are too ‘nice’ to write negative comments in their reviews.
I think the real story is more complicated and obedience to God’s word plays an important role. The Bible teaches that we need to love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31) and that we need to edify our brothers and sisters in Christ and build up the body of Christ.
1 Thessalonians 5:11 says (NIV) ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’ And in Ephesians 4:29, the apostle Paul says ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’
If we make negative comments in a book review, are we then acting in a manner contrary to the teachings in the Bible by saying something that may potentially hurt our brother or sister in Christ? Publishing is a tough business and you need to write an excellent book to capture the attention of an editor at a publishing house. Traditionally published books are vetted by industry professionals, who put their time, energy and dollars behind a book because they believe there is an audience for the book and they can generate a profit by selling the book. If we write a negative book review, are we then dissuading someone who could potentially like the book from buying it? And are we working against building up the kingdom of God and potentially placing an obstacle in someone’s spiritual journey if they would have benefited spiritually by reading the book?
Where does this leave readers, who may read reviews to help them with their book purchasing decisions? Do readers deserve to hear all the positive and negative opinions on a particular book, since they’re handing over their hard earned dollars to buy a book they want to enjoy?
And Paul also says in Ephesians 4: 14-16: ‘Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.’
How does speaking the truth in love work in the world of Christian book reviews? Or is the concept of truth in this instance less relevant, due to a like or dislike for a book being primarily based on an individual’s personal taste?
This is the dilemma Christian reviewer’s face – how to balance the need for readers to hear honest reviews without unnecessarily hurting authors because the book is, in their opinion, either flawed or not to the reviewer’s taste. And personal tastes vary. It’s true that there are some books that we’re just not going to like, including books written by bestselling authors.
I've posted a handful of reviews on Amazon and they are all positive reviews. Would a reader question my credibility as a reviewer because I’ve only posted positive reviews? On the few occasions I’ve volunteered to be an influencer for a book, I’ve been blessed by receiving fabulous books that I can happily review and promote as excellent reads for those who like books in the same genre. But what if I hadn’t liked one of the books? What is the best way to handle this situation? Is it better to only review books you love?
Do you read book reviews as part of your decision making process when you’re thinking about purchasing a book? What aspects of a book review do you find most helpful?
Please let me know your thoughts.