Thomas Nelson Publishers is working with social media. (Their CEO is even on twitter – @michaelhyatt). They started a program to have bloggers review books in exchange for a copy of the book. I signed up. I think it’s a great idea.
Now I’m in trouble.
I am a big fan of Billy Graham. As much as I am a fan of any person, that is. He has lived clearly and consistently. Agree with him or not, he’s about what he is about. My mother has prayed for him for longer than I’ve been alive, asking God to protect his reputation.
For the first book to review, then, I asked for Billy. It’s a book written to be released with the movie by the same name.
Now I’m in trouble.
I didn’t like it. And in order to get any more books (which I’d like to do because Thomas Nelson publishes some very good books), I need to talk about not liking the book. And that feels funny for me, it feels out of character for this blog.
Ah well. I’ll tell you about the book and why I don’t like it. I’ll give it to the first person who asks for it. I’ll tell Nelson that I wrote about it. I’ll pick more carefully next time.
The plot of the book is this: a reporter is interviewing a person on his deathbed. In flashbacks, Charles Templeton is talking about the early days of Billy Graham. The reporter is trying to find scandal in Graham’s life. Templeton is trying for one last time in the spotlight.
Templeton had been a colleague and mentor to Billy Graham. Eventually, however, he decided that he had too many questions about his faith and gave up his pastorate, gave up his preaching, identified himself as an agnostic, and had a second career as a newspaper reporter.
Templeton talks, in answer to questions by the interviewer, about Graham’s early life, decision to be a Christ follower, college mishaps, dating and marriage, and major struggle with his own faith in the Bible.
Here’s what I don’t like.
1. Style of writing. It reads like a book that was written to describe what was on the screen. I want a book to be a book, not an adaptation of a screenplay. I want a book to be about the subject, not about what you are seeing on the screen.
2. Fictionalization. This book is a story about Billy, with elements made up to tell the story. Thus, there are parts of Graham’s story that I recognize. There are parts that I think, “Ah, that’s how it happened.” However. The whole reporter/flashback element of the book is made up to tell the story. As far as I know, there never was this interview with Templeton. I’m guessing that the scene at the end, where the adult Billy comes to visit the adult Charles, never happened. As a result, I’m not sure what is true about conversations that Billy may have had and what isn’t.
1/2b It’s like you have a book that you love and someone makes a movie of it and you think, “That’s not right.” In this case, there is the actual life of Billy Graham and then a story is told out of that as a movie, and then a book is written about that movie. And you think, “Is that part true?”
3. Dramonic License – One part of Graham’s biography that is particularly compelling is his decision to depend on the Bible as true and trustworthy. If you ever have heard him preach, the phrase “the Bible says” is a foundation of his argument. And I know that there was a time early in his ministry that he made a conscious decision to trust.
In this book, that decision is dramatized as a scene on a hilltop, with the devil as a character having lines and stage directions. And it feels strange.
Here’s what is okay.
By focusing on the early years, the years before his big success, this book shows the pieces of Graham’s life that can be overshadowed by later years. He attended three colleges before ending up at Wheaton (full disclosure, my college, too). He dealt with people who were pretty legalistic about what counted as church. He was a preacher and then a speaker and then a college president before ending up in the crusade preaching career that most of us know him for. These sections, this thread through the book, is great.
I still didn’t like the book.
But ask for it, and it’s yours. And you can review it, too.