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What Happened to the Book Reviews?
November 29, 2011
It’s a question several of you have asked me: What happened to the book reviews? For many years I was the one reviewing all the books. Well, not all of them, but I was reviewing a lot of them. For several years I maintained a pace of at least 1 book review each week, and often times it was more than that. I made a concerted effort to keep up with the latest and greatest and to try to keep the blog readers aware of what was new and exciting (or what was truly awful and an utter waste of both paper and ink).
A number of months ago—6 or so, perhaps—something changed. The books still show up at my house, but I find it near-impossible to find the time and the brainspace to read and evaluate as many of them. I still read, but not at near the pace I used to. Thinking about this, I think there are at least 3 causes.
The first is a matter of gluttony. When I began to read and review books, and when the blog began to gain traction, becoming a place to go for reviews of Christian books, books began to show up at my door (and later at a post office box I opened for the purpose). First they came 1 or 2 a week, then 1 or 2 a day, and often more even than that. It was easy enough to separate the good from the really bad, but this still left a lot of books—far more than I could ever hope to get through. But at first I still felt some responsibility, like if the people were sending me the books, it in some way imposed an obligation on me to read them. So I read them. A lot of them. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy myself. I had read so few Christian books before then that there was so much that was new and interesting and exciting. But I guess I overdid it a little bit. Eventually I needed to take some time to do something else. Largely I’ve been reading other books—some of which I’ll tell you about another time. I guess my literary gluttony eventually caught up with me.
The second is a matter of sheer repetition. In all the reading I did—hundreds of books—I was beginning to see a lot of repetition. Most of the books fell into the same genres of spiritual growth and Christian living; most were the product of just a small handful of publishers; most were written within a few months of the time I read and reviewed them; perhaps most importantly, they relied on the same short list of sources, whether that was a relative handful of Puritans of old or a very few truly original writers. I suppose it is always like this; there are some people who seem to come up with the big ideas, and many, many more who add to or interpret or even just repeat. And don’t think that I am exempting myself from this in the books I’ve written. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of it. It is just the way it is. But it led me to struggle as I found the same level of reliance on the same few sources.
The third is a matter of priorities. No one is more surprised than I am, I’m quite certain, that for the first time in many years I have a real job. After 8 or 9 years of self-employment, I am now a full-time associate pastor. This has radically altered the time available for supplemental reading and it has also changed the direction of much of the reading I am able to do. I simply do not have time and energy to do the amount of reading I did before; I also find that more of my reading has to be directed toward particular ends, whether that is sermon preparation or seeking to address questions or concerns specific to the people I seek to serve. Suffice it to say that life has changed an awful lot in a short time.
When you put these 3 factors together, I guess you understand what happened to the book reviews. Going forward, at least in the new year, I am going to try to do a little bit better again. There are still lots of really good books yet to be published (which I can attest to because I have written endorsements for a lot of them!) and I want to read them, to benefit from them, to grapple with them and to make you aware of them. Of course there are also going to be some truly wretched but frustratingly popular books, and I will invest a bit of effort in screening those ones as well.