This past Saturday night at dinner I had a conversation with someone from my congregation who had once loaned me a book to see my thoughts on it . This can be a more hazardous task than may meet the eye. To be sure, I read voraciously and enthusiastically, but there are some times where I read a book and the result is not very pleasant. I was trying to explain to my conversation partner that there are some books that I simply cannot get behind because the author’s perspective and worldview are antithetical to my own . This may not be the writer’s fault, although it makes me a less than ideal reader of certain books. After all, if one knows that a reader will be offended by a book and will likely write about it at some length and with some vigor, as I am known to do when I dislike something, then one will likely take some effort to avoid causing deliberate offense. This is, after all, one of the main reasons why people live in such bubbles when it comes to the news they read, because no one wants to deal with news sources that cause continual offense .
Why does this happen so much? I think there are several reasons for this problem that are interrelated. For example, some people know I read a lot but may not know the highly critical nature of the reading I do, and so they loan me books thinking that I like nearly everything I read, rather than being a reviewer with a strong personal perspective that can be expressed in print rather forcefully. After all, in person I tend to be the sort of fellow who is polite and restrained and greatly abominates unpleasant scenes, and people might assume if they are unfamiliar with my writing that I am similarly restrained as a book reviewer. This assumption is incorrect, and is probably at the root of so many of the mismatches between books loaned to me and my often mixed to adverse response to them. As much as I love books, it is not as easy to give me books that I will enjoy as one may assume from the sheer volume of reading I do.
Another related concern with this is that my restraint in interpersonal interactions leads many people not to realize the extent of my own opinions about matters. More than a few people have mistaken my moderate demeanor for a moderate perspective. This is regrettably not the case. I will patiently listen to many viewpoints I vehemently disagree with, and then write my disagreement later, and likely seek to avoid too many interactions with those whose viewpoints are offensive to me, in as polite and nonconfrontational a way as possible. Again, someone who knows my writing will likely have a good idea of where I stand, as long as they can interpret what I am saying correctly. Those who only know me face to face are likely to sorely mistake my intense politeness and reserve for agreement unless they are somewhat adept at reading my body language. Most people are simply not that observant, and so they fail to get the message, even though those who are observant about body language can generally understand me frighteningly well in person, for all of my shyness and restraint.
Why does it matter, though, what someone’s perspective is? Books are written for reasons. No one ever wrote a book without some kind of agenda. These agendas need not be unpleasant or immoral or hidden, but they are agendas nonetheless. Some people have a story that they feel under compulsion to tell, and a book can be a convenient way of structuring that story. Others have a worldview or insight they wish to promote, or some popular and well-known idea or perspective or behavior that they wish to refute, and so the book becomes part of a debate. It seems that many people are greatly ignorant of this fact when dealing with books or anything else of written nature, that everything written has some sort of purpose or meaning or intent, and that we will not come to terms with the writer unless we understand something of the nature of what they are writing. Without an understanding of context and motive and genre with someone’s writing, all we will have is pretext, and when that is the case we cannot help but go astray. And even when we understand where someone is coming from, we may disagree so fiercely and so viscerally that we simply cannot follow their train of thought without seeing the fallacies and errors and mistaken assumptions in it. Those who are wise will not invite as a fellow traveler someone who will criticize the path they take and part ways because they are heading in a different direction.
 See, for example: