Category Archives: Enjoyable Posts

Receive and You Shall Review?

There’s been some discussion on Nijay Gupta’s blog about what he calls a discouraging trend in the world of book reviewing. “Some publishers,” says Gupta, “are becoming more picky about who they send books to, and also some are refusing to send out print books at all to reviewers…” He also laments the practice of sending ebooks with expiration dates. I find the latter to be deplorable. Always have. I forget what book it was that I received years back that had an expiration date on it but it never got reviewed.

Gupta and those who have commented on his post have all pretty much expressed the desire for hard copies over ebooks. I’m with them. One hundred percent. The general consensus is that reviewers should receive some sort of compensation for the reviews they’re providing because each review is publicity for the book and the publisher. I’m not opposed to such thinking. I’ve commented plenty of times on the symbiotic relationship between publisher and reviewer. We get books, they get reviews. Works perfectly.

Now let me quickly say that some people prefer digital books these days so they’re quite happy with books coming to them in PDF, mobi, or epub formats. That’s good and well. It’s great that publishers have the books available in such formats. I’m still all about hard copies but I have about two dozen important works on my iPad in PDF (thousands of PDFs on an external hard drive). It’s great to have them all available to me at once in a searchable format. I can’t envision myself ever making the switch to all digital but if I did then I’d be very grateful to receive an ebook.

But I’ve meandered long enough. The thing I wanted to comment on was something that Jennifer Guo said in her comment on Gupta’s post. She said:

I agree. I’m old fashioned as well and prefer print by leaps and bounds (what kind of book nerd does not need to mark up their books? not to mention smell the pages wink emoticon ). The bigger point is what Christopher mentioned. While I do review an ebook once in a while from the publishers that refuse to send print, I refuse to review a “disappearing ebook.” Reviewing takes time, and it’s also free publicity for the publisher. A free copy is fair compensation, but if you don’t get to keep even an ebook, I do not see it as fair compensation. We might as well just get a library copy and not spend the time to review then!

I understand the concept of fair compensation. I do. I even agree with it. It’s a bait and switch to send a book for review that later gets taken away. Not cool. It’s the last sentence that stuck with me. Is the idea that we should only review the books we’ve received for free from publishers? If so, why? Why wouldn’t we want to take the time to write about the books we check out of the library (not that I’d ever check a book out of a library)? Why not write about the books we purchase with our hard earned cash?

Some might argue that those reviews could/would be better since the reviewer feels no obligation towards the publisher for sending them a gratis copy. For my part I reviewed the books I bought before I ever knew that I could contact publishers and ask for free copies. Reviews have been a part of my blog since its inception. I continued to review books that I bought well after I started receiving them for free. Now I haven’t reviewed anything in a while, but when I get back to it I’ll continue doing what I’ve always done. But who cares about me?

My point is that I don’t think book reviews should be contingent upon receiving free books in any format. If all the publishers in the world suddenly formed a union and decided to no longer provide free copies to interested reviewers would that mean the demise of the book review? That would be most unfortunate. Would we all of a sudden stop thinking about the things we read and consequently stop having the desire to share those thoughts with others? I would hope not!

Receiving free books is a wonderful benefit of reviewing books but I don’t think it should be the primary goal. In my opinion the main goal should be the dissemination of information. Having the means and ability to inform others about works in their fields of interest is a great privilege. I can’t count how many reviews I’ve read over the years that helped me determine if a book was worth my time, or informed me about the contents of a book I couldn’t get my hands on. I wouldn’t say that it’s my duty to return the service, but I’ve long felt that it’s my honor.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject; especially those of you who review books for internet or print publications.

B”H

Slight Overreaction

Okay, so here’s the situation. Stephen Young wrote an article on “Protective Strategies” in “Evangelical Inerrantist Scholarship” and Christopher Skinner predicted that responses would be forthcoming. Steve Hays then responded to the article. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I’m not familiar with either Young or Skinner. I’ve heard Skinner’s name in the blogosphere and on Twitter but I haven’t read any of his work or interacted with him personally. I’ve not heard of Young before this. Hays on the other hand I know (inasmuch as I can “know” someone whom I’ve never met in person). But we’ve interacted aplenty over the past few years.

I said all that to say this: I think that perhaps Skinner has overreacted to Hays’ response to Young. I haven’t read Young’s original article so I can’t comment on it. I have read Hays’ response and Skinner’s impressions of Hays’ response. I don’t know if Skinner has a personal or professional relationship with Young. He did call him a “very bright Ph.D. candidate” so at least he holds him in some regard. Hays on the other hand was unknown to Skinner before his response to Young’s article. But it becomes clear that he doesn’t hold Hays in nearly the same regard.

Skinner refers to Hays’ response as “rambling, mostly incoherent” as well as “ludicrous” and “disturbing.” He says that he “shudder[s] to point readers to [Hays’] site for fear that this poster will experience a rise in his daily stats and thereby believe that he is reaching the masses…” Again, I don’t know Skinner or his relationship to Young, but when I read this I wondered why he felt so incensed as to employ that kind of rhetoric. I assumed that he was simply taking up for a friend. Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t know.

But then I skimmed Skinner’s original post where he first mentions Young’s article and saw that he was “someone who once clung tightly to the trappings of the evangelical inerrantist subculture and ultimately found that narrative both deficient and oppressive…” He said that it was “empowering to have someone put a name to the ways in which this subculture continues to exercise its influence over the lives and beliefs of so many.” So Skinner has been affected, for the negative it seems, by Evangelical Inerrantist Scholarship. That helps to make sense of his rhetoric, which reads as someone lashing out against someone who has hurt them.

I didn’t discern anything incoherent, ludicrous, or even remotely disturbing in Hays’ response. It was all very well laid out and reasoned. That’s generally a mark of Hays’ writing. If I were to fault him on anything it would be the not too infrequent typographical errors that make their way into his posts. I’d also add that I was at once slightly amused and annoyed by Skinner’s comment that he didn’t want to spike Hays’ blog stats by linking to his post. Amused because Triablogue has been around for more than a decade and is one of the more popular blogs covering the subject matter it covers. Annoyed because it came off as hubristic.

In any event, read everyone involved and judge for yourselves.

B”H

24 Hour Creation Days?

Justin Taylor has a fantastic article on the Biblical Reasons to Doubt the Creation Days Were 24-Hour Periods. I personally don’t think that they were but I’ve never put a ton of weight on one interpretation or another. One thing I hate about discussing the topic is the way that people who believe them to have been 24-hour days treat those who believe differently as if they’re unbelievers, or ignorant of Scripture, or deceived by science, or interpretive acrobats. Taylor lays out a number of well-reasoned biblical arguments for doubting that the days were 24-hour periods and he does so as a devout believer and a biblical inerrantist. Well done!

B”H

Rabbinic Literature and the New Testament

Louis McBride just raised the issue about using rabbinic literature in NT studies, noting that he’s skeptical of the approach. He quotes Amy Jill-Levine who notes a number of problems:

Rabbinic literature is later than the NT
It’s often prescriptive rather than descriptive
It’s often contradictory

I agree with all of those points. I’d say that I think it’s value is limited because it represents a divergent strain of Judaism. The NT and rabbinic literature grew in the same soil but are the results of different strains of the same seeds and manifestly different manners of cultivation. If anything, I think the rabbinic corpus can help us, at times, to understand Jesus’ opponents. I don’t think they shed a great deal of light on the NT in general though.

B”H

An Apologetic of Love

Related to my last post, James Spinti sent me a link to a recent post by Robin Parry in which Robin expresses some concerns about the Dangers of Apologetics. The thing that stood out to me most in the post was the comment that:

The key apologetic for Christianity — far more important than knowing the right answers to hard questions — is love. Communities of faith that embody the kindness of God in cruciform ‘works of love’ are deeply attractive and are themselves evidence (not proof) of the truth of the gospel.

But do give the entire post a read.

B”H

Well, Dr. Black, I’ll Tell You What I Think

In Dave Black’s Sunday, June 2, 9:15 AM post, he quotes T. C. Robinson’s recounting of a friend appealing to Acts 2:38 as an example of a passage that suggests all Christians should speak in tongues. T. C.’s friend took “the gift of the Holy Spirit” to be the gift of tongues given by the Holy Spirit. Dave responds:

For what it’s worth, I might note that I’ve always thought “the gift of the Holy Spirit” in Acts 2:38 to be an example of the genitive of apposition (also called the epexegetical genitive). The idea is, “the gift, that is, the Holy Spirit.” A paraphrase of Peter’s words might be, “You will receive the Holy Spirit as a gift.” In other words, there is nothing here of a specific gift of the Holy Spirit (tongues, prophecy, healing, teaching, etc.). The Holy Spirit, Himself, is the gift. Another NT example might be Jesus’ promise that He would give the people “the sign of Jonah.” What He seemed to mean was, “I will give you Jonah as a sign.”

What do you think?

Well, Dr. Black, I’ll tell you what I think; I think you’re absolutely correct, and I say this as a man whose entire adult Christian life has been spent as an unabashed Pentecostal! I’ve never seen Acts 2:38 used in such a way but I’ve personally used it in exactly the way you suggest—numerous times in fact—especially in presenting the gospel. I love to speak of the Trinitarian shape of Pentecost and I point especially to Peter’s sermon in which he speaks of God raising up Jesus in order to pour out the gift/promise of his Spirit. And what a wonderful gift the Holy Spirit is!

B”H

Realized Fears

Jim West asks Are Biblioblogs Losing Their Souls And Becoming Little More Than Publicity Tools? In the spirit of Jim’s post I’ll offer a disclaimer:

I too love to review books. Many folks might not realize this, but I was reviewing books on my blog long before I ever got them for free. I still review books that I purchase with my own money. So my love for books and reviewing books is in no way linked to my love of getting them for free. Having said that, I do love me some free books! It’s a wonderful thing to be able to see a book that looks interesting, contact a publisher, and then find said volume in the mail a few weeks/months later. Sometimes the books are fantastic and I enthusiastically recommend them. Sometimes they’re awful and I warn readers to stay far, far away. And like Jim I’ve found certain publishers to not appreciate the latter. Oh well. Their loss.

Now back to Jim. In the body of his post he says:

But I’m beginning to become a bit worried. Are bibliobloggers becoming nothing more than publicity tools for publishers? Are reviewers forthright in their reviews or do they simply say all the kindest things simply so that the flow of free books remains unimpeded? Are publishers using bloggers and are bloggers using publishers, not to disseminate worthwhile volumes but to line their shelves?  Are books even being read?

This is a subject I’ve tackled a few times over the years. In answer to his questions I’d say:

  1. Certain bloggers have sold out in order to become nothing more than publicity tools. I won’t name names but we all know who they are. You can’t blame the publishers for this (unless of course they refuse to provide review copies unless favorable reviews are written in return).
  2. Many bloggers are not forthright in their reviews and rarely, if ever, say anything critical because they don’t want to get cut off from the source of free books. Like I said, I’ve had one or two publishers (who shall remain nameless) refuse me additional review copies once I reviewed certain of their titles negatively.
  3. The relationship between blogger and publisher should be mutually beneficial. If publishers are willing to send out books for free then they should get some free publicity out of the deal. But bloggers have to realize that the press can be both good and bad and that they shouldn’t feel obligated to say only good things. What’s that old saying? Any press is good press?
  4. But—and this is what irks me more than anything—many bloggers are not reading the books they review, hence the shallow reviews that do nothing but heap praise upon the book in their glorified blurbs. But this isn’t limited to only positive reviews. I’m sure we’ve all come across negative reviews written by people who hadn’t so much as cracked the cover of the book they were reviewing.

I’d add that I think certain review programs have contributed to the decline Jim has been noticing. Offering a free book with the stipulation that it be posted within a relatively short period of time and not be too long so that it can be cross-posted on a retailer website does not encourage sustained interaction with the text in hand. Now to be fair, not every program is like this, and some of the ones that are don’t offer books that actually merit sustained interaction, but it would seem that publicity is the main goal over and above substantive reviews.

So I’m sorry to say that Jim’s fears are real and they’re most likely here to stay. Thank God for all of the thoughtful reviewers out there and all the publishers seeking honest reviews of their titles.

B”H