by Dave Wheeler
Sunday morning: kitchens smell like coffee brewing, feet are shod with warm, fuzzy slippers, and the newspaper is on your doorstep or your table or your tablet. Books show up in review columns, and you get to glimpse some new and wonderful literature.
Sometimes I read the New York Times Book Review to get a bead on what books folks are talking about. Other times, I look for the reviews for books I’m interested in but might not get to read in the near future. (Admit it: we’ve all got to prioritize, and some great books just don’t make the cut.) But maybe my favorite reviews to read are for books that I have read already.
I remember back in September, the Times reviewed Michael Chabon’s novel Telegraph Avenue. I was still halfway through the book and refused to look at the review until I was done. It was like waiting that extra day to watch Downton Abbey or Game of Thrones or RuPaul’s Drag Race — whatever your obsession may be — and neurotically avoiding all social media in the meantime for fear of spoilers. I wanted to experience the book on its own before letting anyone else cloud my judgment.
Then, afterwards, I can hold court with the reviewer. Line by line. Agree and disagree.
Telegraph Avenue is a complete delight, and, fortunately, the review it garnered was a good one. So I didn’t have to send hate mail to anyone.
This Sunday, the Times reviewed another book I’m excited about, Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu. In fact, fine Seattle journalist Dan Savage even reviews it. You may feel like reading the review now. If so, I’ll wait, but come back when you’re finished.
I liked Chu’s book for a number or reasons, both personal and professional. Where those reasons intersect, I think, is the author’s approach to the material. Such a hot-button topic for a book: the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality in America. Everybody’s going to walk away from this book with their own take, but I still posit that Chu’s professional journalism background gave him tools to examine his subject — one he is openly emotional and invested with — carefully, even objectively.
Savage gives us his take on the book. Overall a positive review, with a handful of criticisms. And that’s fine.
As debate continues around LGBTQ rights, and as Christianity remains prominently in opposition, I’d imagine Chu’s challenge in writing this book was sifting the wealth of dialog for ground that hasn’t yet been tread, conversations not yet said. And I believe he does a bang-up job. I’ve read plenty on faith and sexuality, trust me, so I approached Does Jesus Really Love Me? with my fair share of trepidation. But Chu’s story read like a fresh perspective. It felt important as I read it.
The conversation doesn’t end there: not by a long shot! But reading Chu’s story, then Savage’s review, and carrying my own opinions makes it feel like the dialog remains open to new takes. The LGBTQ movement is, after all, a marvelous chorus of different voices, and no one gets to speak for all of us.
I’m excited, too, because this particular vein of dialog continues tomorrow night, Monday, April 15! Jeff Chu will be speaking at a free event at Seattle First Baptist Church, at 7pm. Sure to be a thoughtful evening, I hope you’ll consider joining us.