Reviewing Reviews

Years ago, we made a batch of African Peanut Soup and served it up to our dinner guests, a young couple we were trying to fix up. We all heroically made our way through the muddy brown gunk in our bowls. We all pretended to like it (my husband, bless him, probably actually did) but eventually someone — and I’m pretty sure it was Kevin Miller — spoke the truth. The soup was truly awful.

The Soup Incident occurred the week Diana, the Princess of Wales died, so that topic came up too. Kevin, who was super-cool even back then — and fearless — said he didn’t understand why everyone was so hysterical over her death.  Even though I was crying on the inside, and sodden tissues were strewn over my bed where I had been weeping all week long, I pretended to agree. Mostly because I was still young enough to think I needed to hide what I really felt in order to be liked. Plus, I had already messed up the soup.

And how was I supposed to know that Kevin would pop in the next day to drop something off — only to find me watching a tape recording of Diana’s funeral, bawling as I opened the front door?

What does all this have to do with being reviewed as an artist?

Well, Kevin and Heidi got married. Hooray! They have a thousand children and live in B.C. Kevin has reached his goal of being a filmmaker and has just released the bound-to-be-controversial-in-some-circles movie Hellbound?

Christianity Today has already reviewed it, and that negative review has in turn been reviewed — negatively — by Frank Schaeffer.

Kevin has gamely posted links to both reviews on his site. You can find them here.  See what you think.

Here’s what I think:

1. Not everyone is going to like you, your opinion, your writing style. Or your soup.

2. You will be misunderstood, unfairly, by people who don’t seem to read or watch carefully enough and remind you of having arguments with your older sister when she was in her mean phase.

3. If your work is going to see the light of day, it will have the light of scrutiny shone all over it. Make all you do and write excellent. Write what you believe and believe what you write. If you cried when Diana died, let it all hang out! Who cares if they don’t like it?

4. You do of course! You care. And that’s what makes it so tough.  Work on getting a thick skin, not always easy for the sensitive, creative soul. When I found out Going Missional was going to be reviewed by Julie-Lane Gay, a writer I knew from years ago in the Regent College community, my heart raced. I practically fainted. I worried that my work would not stand up under her Super Smart Person Scrutiny. But it did. And that gave me more confidence. You can read her review here.

To this day, I still hyperventilate, just  a little bit, when a reader sends in a Letter to the Editor on a piece I wrote. If it’s a nice letter, I want to go have tea with them, and explore together the cleverness of my piece. Until they call the police. If it’s a nasty letter, I want to curl up into a ball. Then I want to write a defensive response.

Which I have never, ever done, because letters to the editor are the reviews of the reader and their right. All reviews are the risk the writer takes. And of course, they’re worth it. Plus, there is the added bonus of having proof positive that real, living people are actually out there somewhere, taking the time to actually read what you have written. And been moved in some way to respond.

I like that Kevin posted the review — and the review’s review — (which will no doubt be followed up by reviews of the review’s review) on his site without a lot of commentary. But I would expect nothing less from a professional honest enough to speak the truth about African Peanut Soup, and bold enough to take on the teeny weeny little subject of Hell.

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