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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Inviting Trouble with a Good Deed

In my e-mail in-box on Saturday morning (the time stamp indicated that it was sent at 4a.m., an hour I do not personally know to be good for anything but sleeping):

Dear Lucy Adams,
As a member of the UGA Alumni Association, I receive frequent e-mail announcements, the most recent of which had a recommended reading list, with that controversial Todd Burpo "heaven" book apparently recommended by you. Although most Amazon.com reviewers have rated the book highly, there has also been a very large number of highly critical comments. My suspicion is that this was a well-planned scheme to make money -- nothing more -- and it concerns me that the book is being recommended. I will end by saying that I am a Christian and I definitely believe in heaven, but this book seems to offer many clues that things did not happen as portrayed in the book. In fact, I would bet that everything stated in the book relating to heaven was made up.
Sincerely,
Tom Ryan (PhD, 1977)

I gave it some thought and Googled him,, naturally, to see what on earth he'd earned a Ph.D. in. Statistics, it seems. I decided he deserved a reply. I divided up the various arguments in his note and addressed them point by point. Tom's words are italicized, mine are bold:

Hi Tom,
I never expected to get an e-mail regarding my suggestion for the UGA Alumni Summer Reading List. I'm flattered that you took the time to respond. I have replied to each of your points below.

As a member of the UGA Alumni Association, I receive frequent e-mail announcements, the most recent of which had a recommended reading list, with that controversial Todd Burpo "heaven" book apparently recommended by you.

It obviously was suggested by me, as I am credited for it. Yes, this is sarcasm. I apologize. The word "apparently" always irks me. It's a horrible adverb and should be deleted from the English language. I promise this is the last sarcasm you will read from me. The rest of my reply is sincere.

Although most Amazon.com reviewers have rated the book highly, there has also been a very large number of highly critical comments.

As a writer myself, I read a wide range of literature, from memoirs, such as The Liars Club, to mysteries, such as Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, to historical fiction, such as Sarah's Key, to chick lit, such as Men and Dogs, to classics, such as Fahrenheit 451. I enjoy studying other authors' writing styles and content.

As for Heaven is for Real, the writing itself leaves a lot to be desired. It is awkward and herky-jerky. The content, however, is intriguing. It generated a great deal of healthy discussion in my household amongst my four children, ages 10-15, my husband and myself. The best way to become a critical reader is to read a wide range of material and analyze it with other people. I strongly encourage this intellectual activity.

Also, the number of reviews and the mixture of reviews indicates to me that this book has people thinking. Isn't that what we want, for people to think?

My suspicion is that this was a well-planned scheme to make money -- nothing more --

Of course it is to make money. That motivation doesn't make the book any less valid. Money is not bad. It's how we buy food, pay for vacations and send our children to college. I very much hope the authors do make a little money from their efforts.

and it concerns me that the book is being recommended.

Recommended does not mean required. As this list went out to alumni, the recipients of it are educated enough to choose reading material that suits their tastes and able enough to read selected works with a critical mind.

I will end by saying that I am a Christian and I definitely believe in heaven, but this book seems to offer many clues that things did not happen as portrayed in the book. In fact, I would bet that everything stated in the book relating to heaven was made up.

I cannot say whether it was made up or not. Certainly, the accuracy of the content depends on the accuracy of the authors' memories. Memories of events generally evolve over time, with some details added and other details forgotten. As a writer of creative non-fiction, I can also attest that I work hard to make it entertaining; otherwise, it would read like a monotone police report of facts and bore my audience to death. The authors of Heaven is for Real probably did the same. Again, writing to entertain doesn't necessarily mean they fabricated their message. Ultimately, the reader must decide for him or herself which parts, if any, to believe and which parts to remain skeptical of.

Finally, and this is for my own personal curiosity, why were you up at 4am worrying about the summer reading list? Was I the only person you e-mailed or did you send something to every person who made a recommendation?

Thank you for reaching out. This exchange has been good for my brain on a Saturday.

Sincerely,
Lucy Adams

Though I had hoped for a rebuttal to my rebuttal in the spirit of bantering, I have not heard back from Tom. I suppose he has moved on to save the world from some other mundane literary threat.

4 comments:

Shelly said...

Excellent! Perhaps Tom is needing some extra time to phrase his reply. Enjoyed reading this-

Darlene said...

I enjoyed reading your rebuttal. I would also like to know why Tom was up at 4 AM.

Norma Beishir said...

Brilliant, Lucy!

Dawn M. Hamsher said...

Lucy,
Interesting email and response.

Holly Lisle has a long list of recommended reads and I chose two that had interesting titles (Pocketful of Names and Troll - A Love Story). They were not books I'd regularly choose, but I wanted to be open to learning from other authors and different genres. I decided no matter what I would learn something. I liked Pocketful of names and listed things I liked and disliked. The other book, I hated. I struggled to find even one redeeming quality. Then, I had it! The author labeled each chapter with the name of the POV character for that chapter. I had no problem following the book b/c I always knew who was speaking. Whew, I learned 1 thing!

Sorry, long-winded. In conclusion, I agree. Some books are "suggested" reading. Read them or don't. :0)

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