Culture

Accentuate the positive

Culture | George Grant explains his principles for reviewing books

Issue: "Day scare," Jan. 10, 1998

From time to time I am asked why I do only positive reviews. Why don't I do genuine criticism? Why don't I lambaste all the piffle, drivel, and swill that seems to subsume the publishing industry these days? There are two simple reasons.

First, I don't have time to read bad books. There are still too many classics that I have not yet had a chance to read. I don't have any inclination to waste precious time plowing through boring, or wicked, or sentimental, or lurid works. If I discover that a book is not worth reading after a couple of chapters, I stop reading it. And if I wouldn't waste my time reading something, I figure I shouldn't waste your time telling you as much. How much better to profile the myriad of volumes that are really worth reading-and thus, worth talking about. The fiercest criticism I can offer a bad book is to ignore it.

Second, my whole purpose in writing articles, columns, and newsletters about books is not merely to write articles, columns, and newsletters about books. I don't need the space, the PR, or the extra job. I make no pretense of being a journalist or a professional critic of belles lettres. I am a reader who happens to enjoy sharing my favorite discoveries with others. I try not to be promiscuous in my praise. But I have no intention of masking my enthusiasms, either.

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Now, if a Mein Kampf were to come along, I'd likely be obligated to point out its gross malignancy. That is most assuredly a noble task worth undertaking. To be sure, we need to be alert to the dangers around us. We can't afford to be incognizant of the dark forces that threaten to topple our culture. We mustn't stick our heads in the sand. Lord knows, I've spent much of my career lampooning the enemies of justice, mercy, and humility before God. So I'm certainly not saying that we need to shy away from condemning the prejudice, perversity, and intellectual dishonesty that are the hallmarks of modern inhuman humanism.

But the fact is, most bad books aren't all that important. They will ultimately collapse under the weight of their own absurdity and generally do not warrant our frenzied concern.

At a time when most people are only too well aware of the smothering mediocrity of American pop culture, why not direct attention to those few works of encouragement, edification, erudition, and enlightenment? Indeed, the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:8 reminds us to keep things in proper perspective-to major on the majors and minor on the minors: "Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are noble, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, and if there be anything praiseworthy, think on these things."

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