limbs and tree branches against a blue sky and bright sun. some of the branches are broken

How to Get Better Book Reviews

or When the Bough Breaks

Although I eventually learned how to get better book reviews, I learned much from the reviews my first book Stuck in Reverse received.

I learned that two people can read the same book and have such widely divergent opinions about it, you would think they’d read completely different books.

I learned that good book reviews make me feel good and bad reviews don’t.

However, all things considered, I’ve learned more from the negative reviews than from the positive ones. My good friend Drew encouraged me to take this viewpoint:  “I think, the way you find the good reviews interesting and appealing, so you should also do with the bad ones, too —

No victory without a war, no peace without a storm, no solution without a problem, no lesson without an experience.”

I found out that Drew knew what he was talking about. Criticism, whether justified or not, is often where the light comes in, that light shining into the recesses of your mind where you find cobwebs, spiders, and dusty old books you wanted to read but never got around to it— THAT corner of your mind. A few reviewers alluded to or mentioned something that forced me to enter those dark recesses.  It’s a question I’ve often thought about, but I never came up with a satisfactory answer. Until now.

Here is the question: If God makes everyone different, it stands to reason that some people are going to have a much easier life than others and that some are going to be blessed with winning the “genetic lottery.” If everyone doesn’t have an equal shot at making their lives a glowing example of success, how does God judge? Does he take into account that some people start life at 90% and only have to put in a 10% effort to achieve an exemplary life, while others start at 5% and have to climb a huge hill to just reach 45%? 

I always felt like one of those people who started at the low end.

Maybe not at 5%, but definitely under 30%. I was smart and born in a wealthy country, but I was so shy, introspective, and beset by depression that I struggled, some days, just to get out of bed. I often lost that struggle. It wasn’t a handicap that people could see. And there’s the rub.

If I had been born in a mud hut in Africa, the people who wrote things like this excerpt from one of my book reviews would have been more pleased: “Most lives here in America are not autobiography material. ‘First world’ problems do feel like ‘worst things ever’ when they happen to you. But not really so in a book.” 

I felt slapped down by the review. I felt the reviewer was saying to me, “Your piddly problems are not important and no one cares about them. Stop whining and grow up.” 

Yes, I admit it–I have a good imagination and wobbly self-esteem. Combine that with a tendency toward depression and a personality type that picks up on everyone else’s thoughts and emotions but never understands her own, throw it in a blender, and you end up with a mess on your hands.

So ARE my problems piddly because I live in a wealthy country and that should make me happier than a pig in slop?

Does God see my problems as piddly things I should stop whining about because he blessed me with so much?

Or do my emotional defects and personality type–characteristics I was born with — mean that God will grade me on a curve? That He will take these factors into consideration?

I remember pondering this question decades before I ever read that book review, and the comments dredged up old thoughts and feelings. And questions. So I started pondering again.

And this time, God showed me the answer.

Yesterday, I watched an online concert of Jason Gray, a Christian musician. I love his music and especially his lyrics. During the concert, he talked about his music, why he wrote certain lyrics and what he had learned. Yesterday he talked about being broken, and many of his songs do, as well.

Jason talked about one of his early mentors who said, “I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t been broken.”

Jason said that being broken has made him more trustworthy, less judgmental, and more compassionate. Then he read a quote by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross:

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

Jason wrote about brokenness in several songs, but this one has some of the most beautiful lyrics I’ve ever heard. It’s called “Glow in the Dark.

So THAT is what God intends for us — to glow in the dark.

And just like glow sticks that have to be broken to glow, we have to be broken to shine in our lives. Does it matter where we live? Does it matter if we have riches beyond belief or disabling defects? When I reconsider the question I have pondered for so many years, I realize that the people who have it made — the people who have won the genetic and geographic lotteries — may actually have a more difficult time becoming what God intended for us to be — lighthouses in the dark seas, illuminating the course to Him.

I stumbled across another quote by Dr. Kübler-Ross that also talks about light:

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Psalm 34:18 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

God rushes in when people are broken. That is the key. It doesn’t matter what it takes to crush us, whether it’s living in the richest country in the world and losing your job or watching your third child die of malaria in a third-world country, whatever it takes to crush us makes us into people who will shine in this dark world and better exhibit the qualities that God values: humility, gentleness, and lovingkindness. 

“If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13: 3-7, 13

Thank God for your troubles. Thank God when you are broken. The Apostle Paul writes, “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Romans 5:3-5 NASB

God doesn’t grade on a curve. We are either humble in spirit, accepting His help and salvation, or we aren’t. That is the only thing that counts.

If you’re interested in learning more about how to approach book reviews, read about it here.

4 thoughts on “How to Get Better Book Reviews”

  1. Thank you Susan for this advice on how to handle criticism. I enjoyed reading it. I also liked what Drew said. How we respond to criticism is what helps us grow to be more like Christ. There have been times God has told me to ignore criticism if it contradicts his truth and thoughts about me, and other times he has helped me grow from it.

    1. Thanks so much, Karen! I so agree – we can learn from criticism (to either ignore or pay attention to it) or let it destroy us. Much better to listen and learn.
      I appreciate the feedback!

  2. Olanrewaju Kolapo

    “Tye Lord is close to the broken hearted and always saves those who are crushed in the spirit”. I’ll always carry these words with me. A very brilliant article!

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