Confessions of an Atheist Book Reviewer
I am an atheist. There, I said it, proud of it and will not deny it, much like many of my Christian friends and authors who honor their trade(s) and faith(s). I am also an author and book reviewer.
I am not one of those radical atheists out to destroy religion or an evangelical atheist out to convert everyone to the life of reason, logic and science. I have written essays in support of Christians and Muslims when harmed based solely on their faith.
As a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, assignments include political and religious tomes. Most are non-fiction but occasionally Christian-fiction is thrown my way.
My only concern about the target market or audience is readability. Demographics are something for the author to decide early in the writing process and the traditional publisher to analyze.
The problem, at least what many seem to assume is the problem, is how I separate my a-theistic, scientific, and Aristotlistic self while reading what other a-theistic reviewers may call “mythological dribble?” Simply, it ain’t easy. Occasionally I ask a Christian author friend to review my review if I believe I had become “radical.”
There are those moments when I do get in the occasional licks, though are most trashed during the self-editing process. It is fortunate that NYJB’s Editor Lisa Rojany Buccieri called me on crossing that line only once. Bad spelling and structure occasionally, but once for inserting my personal political and religious views.
I do admit self-control is not always possible. I have started books and thought of asking the powers-that-be to assign it to someone else, but never have. I, the faithful liberal, even reviewed Ann Coulter’s Demonic: How the Liberal Mob Is Endangering America.
Once in a while an author slaps the reader across the face with the theocratic message in the first pages. The best example is Putting Away Childish Things: A Tale of Modern Faith by Christian author Marcus J. Borg, Ph.D. For background on the book, please read my NYJB review.
In all cases, basics of good writing are essential, especially with the genre of Christian fiction.
Foremost, the story must be intriguing and captivating. Regardless of the genre of fiction, poor writing and storytelling rings the death knell for any writer. Make the reader want to continue.
Dr. Borg tells the reader in the introduction that this is a “teaching novel” and he does provide a vast amount of information concerning the liberal arm of the Episcopalian Church. However, any evidence of good storytelling, especially fictional storytelling, is not there. The story has no direction.
The second foundation is the moral dilemma of the main character, whether it is searching for one’s spiritual direction, or a forbidden love, or simply the question of morality, right versus wrong. Without this single element, the story is relegated to Writer’s Purgatory.
Borg’s dilemma is with the story of young Erin. She is a freshman in Christian college, seeking a spiritual direction to her life. Her dilemma is her entanglement in the liberal and conservative arms of the Episcopal Church, and the multiple sects of the Christian faith. A great place to begin but here under told and Erin is not the main character. Poor design.
Third, the dilemma must be resolved by the end of the book. In other words, there must be a solid closing to the story, even if there is still an element of dilemma remaining, a tried and true method of setting the reader up for the sequel. Here our author missed the mark completely. Erin never resolves her conflicts and the reader is left hanging.
Finally, the characters and settings must be believable, especially true with fiction. The locals and characters must have character. Not through over explanation, over description or over used literary devices. I expect an author to be original and know the characters as well as she know herself.
Is reviewing Christian fiction or non-fiction difficult? You bet. Is it challenging? You bet. Is it fulfilling? You bet, about 99 percent of the time.
If your book will be published though a traditional presses, have the publisher send a request to review to Rhonda at NYJB about three months before release.
If your book is self-published or has been released, send your request to InkandVoice Communication.
Have fun, write well, remember the basics and never be discouraged. My advice, have someone read a few chapters – someone who is willing to tell you your fly is open. The truth will set you free. (John 8:32)
David Rosman, an atheist, is an award winning author, columnist and educator. You can read his weekly essays in the Columbia Missourian, and on InkandVoice.com/editorials. He is also a book reviewer for the New York Journal of Books.David’s most recent book is A Christian Nation?: An examination of Christian nation theories and proofs.
Note From Nikki: Yesterday we featured author, C.S. Lakin here. Tomorrow, I am featuring author, Dianne Christner. You can read more about this series here. Just a reminder, please keep all comment civil. Discussion is welcome. I will be moderating the series all week.