The Church of the Holy Word

I didn’t realize how much I have in common with Jimmy Swaggart (the disgraced American evangelical preacher) until I got an email from Lucy at BooksPrice a few weeks ago. Some of you might have gotten one too. Check out BooksPrice, she said. It’s a site that lets you search the web for the book you want (all except ebay) and it’ll tell you where you can get it for the best price. And, to thank you for looking at BooksPrice, and maybe writing about it, here’s a book.

Naturally, being an easy sort, I clicked on that link. It’s a nice site, although I think it only gives you price comparisons for U.S. booksellers. (*Nope, I’m wrong there — it does do a UK search!)

The trouble with BooksPrice isn’t the site. It’s the offer to give me a book for looking at it. In some odd way, the offer of the book made my positive reaction to Lucy’s site feel kind of sinful. It’s a silly response, in some ways. I send and receive books all the time (and thank you Anne for Winter’s Tale — I love the edition you sent!) and so Lucy sending me a book isn’t such a big deal.

Anyway, I forgot all about that particular little dilemma as soon as I noticed the page on the site where BooksPrice’s editors recommend a book every week. Now I don’t know about you, but I always look at things like that. I use it to gauge what the recommender’s like. It’s a way to see into their soul. Sort of. (It would be helpful to also know what they put in their cart at the grocery store before forming a definitive opinion of the state of their soul.)

So here’s what I found out when I looked into BooksPrice’s soul… I mean, their weekly recommended book page. There are some good recommendations on it but the last one (Pamuk’s great novel, My Name is Red) was posted in December. It was as though they had at one time seen the light of the good book, and then suddenly stopped bearing witness, maybe lured away by some worldly temptation. Or maybe they were just busy fixing some part of their site that had mysteriously broken. Whatever the reason, it came to me, as though from some divine booksource, that it was my calling to illuminate that little corner of the web, to encourage more people to read good books, books I think are good, I mean.

So I emailed Lucy and told her I’d write some blurbs for her to put on her site if she wanted. I want to bear witness to the world (or at least the people who use BooksPrice)  about the illustrated Elements of Style, and Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, and Sandi Shelton‘s wonderful, wise and very funny book, A Piece of Normal. I’d like to preach the good news of The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which sounds like bad news, but at least it’s well written, and like Revelations tells you some stuff you need to know. I want searchers after the truth to pick up that new translation of The Three Musketeers when they’re at BooksPrice looking for a repair manual for their car. I want them all to come to books, to the good news of good books and be changed forever.

Lucy’s no fool — in fact, she’s a lovely woman, very kind, and interesting and generous. Seeing a free, enthusiastic source of content for her site, and most likely unaware of the evangelical nature of my offer, she very nicely said she’d love to have my blurbs. So I’m about to send Lucy five recommendations — enough to last her through to the spring, if she does post them over there once a week. (I am aware that it is really not going to be spring in a lot of places for at least five weeks.)

Lucy also offered to send me a few books I’m interested in reading and maybe posting about over at her site.  Just tell her what I’m interested in, and she’ll see what she can do. Thinking this over after my initial shock of delight, I continue to feel uneasy about receiving free books from Lucy. In fact, I feel a little like Jimmy Swaggart, considering whether he’ll use the church’s resources to buy drugs and fast women for himself. He loves the church, and its people, and the word. But he loves the worldly pleasures and wants them for himself. His hand hovers over the collection plate and trembles.

Me? Maybe I’ll let myself fall from grace. Maybe I won’t. I’m here to tell you that I’m sorely, sorely tempted. I want to read that new Jim Harrison book that was on the cover of the New York Times Book Review last week. And I don’t want to wait until it comes to my local bookstore.

Your tempted but not yet fallen sister in the holy word,



10 thoughts on “The Church of the Holy Word

  1. And this post was worth a thousand books for Lucy, I can tell you. You have not stolen your free book. But be careful to enclose such posts in a ‘sponsored posts’ frame if you do that more often 😉

  2. Oh, I hate to fan the flames of some sort of verbal blog war, a revisting of the squirmish that started on Kimbofo’s Reading Matters blog last December (and like all wars, real or verbal, spread to many places in blogland), but here is my 2 cents for what it’s worth (which, is, in actuality, .02 cents US):

    Reviewers get free books all of the time. Standard publishing practice. It isn’t a bad practice and you’re not guaranteed to get a book you’ll like. The only thing that is unethical is if you recommend a work that you know isn’t something you’d give to your best reading pal for free because it’s horrible.

    I respectfully disagree with Mandarine’s premise that you need to indicate that it is ‘sponsored’ if you write on your blog about a book that this site gives you. They are not sponsoring your blog. As long as you’re honest in your assessment of the book, what’s the problem? It will be up to BooksPrice to decide to publish it; they are the ones assuming the risk of giving you something to review and risking that you will not give it a positive one. Your enthusiasm for a book may be evangelical praise, but it could just as likely evoke a Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, all hellfire and brimstone, repent-if-you-idly-waste-your-time-on-this-evil-tripe, kind of a response.

    If the books are given to you as compensation for writing a review (not for writing a positive review) and you feel that you need to confess that, then you should. But if it makes your hand tremble over the collection plate (what a great analogy, btw, BL), if the temptation to loosen your standards in service of an idolatrous master (I am loving this religious analogy too much, I think) then stay clear.

    (And, for the record, I have reviewed books on my blog that I’ve received from publishers. The ratio of negative reviews to positive is currently 2:1. The last time I reviewed a work provided by the publisher, I did indicate that it was an ARC copy. It didn’t change my opinion in the least. The author left a comment saying he was sorry I didn’t like the book. I was sorry too that I hadn’t, but not that I wrote what I did.)

  3. Hello Cam, I want you on my defense team when I show up in heaven, wearing that scarlet dress. You are so sensible and clear, and besides you know all about Jonathan Edwards, the guy who came before the one running for president. I want Mandarine there too, because he has a great accent, and he’s funny. (I think he was teasing about the sponsored blog…) To be me, if you say so, I’m going with it.

    xo, BL

  4. I almost penned “sinners in the hands of an angry Bloglily” hehehe.

    Knowing about Edwards doesn’t come in handy too often (Jeopardy!, blogs, obscure jokes that only a few understand, etc.). I’ve been thinking recently that I need to find a copy of this sermon. Theologically, it creeps me out; but from a writing point of view, it’s wonderful. Sinners dangling like a spider over the pit of hell. Oh! would that make one squirm in some austere New England church pew!

    As for being on your heavenly defense team, I’ll be there, though I’ve been told I’m more likely to be a greeter in H3ll. While I don’t believe that, the thought of serving eternally in some sort of Wal-Mart greeter capacity sounds just frightful!

    Sorry my earlier comment was so lengthy. I got a little carried away. Amen!

  5. Ok. I found this post after a different blogging debate than the one that Cam mentioned – the Susan Hill/Rachel Cooke debate about bloggers vs. reviews. Confessions of a Book Reviewer.

    It might make you feel better. I’ve gotten books for free from publishers and publicists. I also get books from free from the library. Or from friends. And as presents. I’ve won a book or two in contests. And sometimes…sometimes I even buy books.

  6. ah, Lily, I’m so glad the book got to you and you like it! I’m sorry it wasn’t one I had in my own posession, but Winter’s Tale has a habit of entering my life and then leaving it again, and I never get it back… everyone always loves it as much as I do. I hope you do as well. Amen to evangelical book blogging… may I bear witness? AMEN!

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