The great novelist John Updike once said he’d gotten to know so many writers over his years in the literary world that it limited the books he agreed to review. He didn’t feel comfortable criticizing the books of friends or acquaintances. Updike said this, by the way, in a conversation with Nieman fellows at Harvard in 1978.
One can understand his reluctance. Even mild criticism might provide the wrath of the author and end a friendship. Praise for the book of a friend might be written off as intellectually dishonest.
However, I’m not going to let friendships stop me. Five of my friends published books in recent months, and I’ve benefited from reading all or parts of them. Biased though I may be, I highly recommend all five.
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny by Amy Julia Becker. I knew before I read the book that it would be brilliant, and it is. A Princeton grad, she lived at our house for a year when she worked in Christian outreach to private schools. Her book is the story of discovering the rewards and joys of raising Penny, a child with Down syndrome.
December 1941: 31 Days That Changed America and Saved the World by Craig Shirley. This enthralling account of the early weeks of World War II on the home front is a departure for Shirley, the chronicler of Ronald Reagan’s campaigns and the first Reagan scholar at the Gipper’s alma mater, Eureka College in Illinois. “Never before or since has America been so unified,” Shirley writes.
The High Tide of American Conservatism: Davis, Coolidge, and the 1924 Election by Garland S. Tucker III. John Yates, the rector of the Falls Church (Anglican), asked me to look at a manuscript by Tucker, his cousin and an investment banker in Raleigh, North Carolina. I expected an amateurish effort, but the book turned out to be a politically astute, smoothly written, and quite readable. I was proud to write the foreword.
The Case of Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism by Jeffrey Bell. Bell’s 1992 book, Populism and Elitism: Politics in the Age of Equality, earned him the reputation as a thinker far ahead of the crowd on the political curve. This is a kind of sequel, a defense of both social issues and polarization. No one else could have written this book.
The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era by Tim Goeglein. At the heart of this book is the personal story of a White House aide who got in trouble for plagiarism. How President Bush handled the situation tells a lot about his character and his loyalty to those who worked for him.
Updike set a high standard for ethical book reviewing. As a result, he was often reduced to reviewing books I thought were fairly obscure. I’m obviously playing favorites here. But, trust me, their books are definitely worth reading.