“You were kind of hard on your blog readers today, weren’t you?” my wife said. She’s always taking your side.
I assumed my wife was getting on to me about articulating my opinions about The Road and The Giving Tree. I began patiently to explain how I had made it clear that I wasn’t criticizing anybody who had recommended those books.

Then my wife patiently explained that she was talking about something else. She was talking about the fact that on Monday I invited people to tell what books they liked, then on Wednesday I told them why they shouldn’t like those books. “If I were Joe, I’d never come back.”

“Joe? Just because I  described one of his favorite books as ‘creepy’? Joe understands. Surely Joe understands.”

I thought on it. “Maybe I’ll write a nice email to Joe. And to Gina. And Aaron [who, by the way, likes both The Giving Tree and The Road].”

“Okay,” my wife said. “But what about everybody else? Because you created an unsafe environment. I wouldn’t answer next time you ask people to give their opinion.” It takes courage, she said, to commit one’s opinions to writing and put them out there for the world to read.

Which is true. I asked you to put yourselves out there, then I smacked some of you on the hand with a ruler. In other words, what we have here is a failure of hospitality. You are my guests here, and you deserve better treatment.

I am a man of strong literary opinions. I hope my blog readers are interested in my opinions, which, if you ask me, are very well-informed. I hope becomes a place where we feel free to respectfully discuss disagree about topics literary and otherwise. But I went about Sad Book Week all wrong. I asked you to tell me what you liked, which is a different thing from asking you what opinions you hold. Your likes sit a little closer to your self than your opinions, and to pass judgment on your likes was beyond my jurisdiction.

So Joe, Gina, and Aaron–and everybody else–I hope you will forgive me for my lapse in hospitality. I want this to be a safe place for people to write and try to tell the truth without having to worry about my sailing down from the rafters to knock them down. In the future, I plan to open the floor to debate many times, but I’ll try to make that clear from the start of the discussion and refrain from the old “Tell me what you like…oh, but you shouldn’t like that” routine.

Fair enough?

  • Amy
    1:09 PM, 18 November 2010

    Tell your wife “thanks” for looking out for us. I feel safer already. 🙂
    I love a good argument.

    So, Jonathan…when you write a story or a book, do you have one distinct message you want to deliver to your readers, or are you hoping/expecting that each reader takes something different, something personal away with them?

  • Joe
    1:56 PM, 18 November 2010

    Jonathan, it is kind of you to say this, and your wife is a sweetheart, but admittedly I wasn’t at all offended and really didn’t think twice about it. Since it’s your blog, I rather expect you to comment as you so choose. You are a gentleman and a scholar, and your Christian charity and hospitality have never been in question in my mind.
    P.S. Isn’t it great having a wife that looks out for you in this way and isn’t afraid to tell you? I’m blessed in that regard, too.

  • gina
    2:39 PM, 18 November 2010

    I’m reading your post over my nice steaming cup of hot kool aid. Very nice. Thanks to you and your wifie–I’ve liked her better than you from the beginning, you know. I rarely comment on these types of blogs, because I’m like, totally so not as smart as all y’all people and I’m afraid of saying something dumb. So don’t be mad if I pull back into my shell for a while. However, I do like to think of myself as the tree in the story: full of unconditional love and forgiveness, even when people hack me to bits.

  • B.T.
    2:49 PM, 18 November 2010

    I was not offended at all, but thanks…I do feel a little more comfortable saying how much I loved The Road and how sad it made me. It helped me see more clearly the ultimate responsibility I have to my 11 year old son. I was so sad and scared when the boy lost his long-time protector, but I found hope in how deeply the father loved his son and in how he never gave up.

  • Aaron Roughton
    2:56 PM, 18 November 2010

    I think the main reason I’m not offended by your comments about the Giving Tree or The Road is that I agree with them. I didn’t feel like you were telling me I shouldn’t read The Giving Tree or The Road, only that they both contained a type of sadness that fell short on the scale of what we might call helpful sadness. I’d still be interested to know what our reference point is, and whether a more secular reference point might lend a different weight to any of the stories we’ve mentioned.
    But another reason I’m not offended is that I’m sick of being “the best commenter in the entire world” or “the most handsome person ever to comment on a blog of any type anywhere” with no real work involved. I’m ready for a challenge. Next up? I say you school me in baptism by immersion and predestination, or better yet, pre-ordained baptism by immersion. Or even better yet, pre-ordained canine baptism by immersion.

    • Jonathan Rogers
      11:34 PM, 18 November 2010

      You’re right, Aaron, about a more secular reference point lending a different weight to these sad stories. If I didn’t believe in transcendence, and if I didn’t believe this to be a divine comedy we’re living in, The Road would seem like a helpful corrective to–well, to a comforting belief in transcendence and divine comedy. I would say, “It’s about time somebody told the truth! All we’ve got is each other, and we’d better not do anything apocalyptic.”
      And I’ve got more good news for you, Aaron. The topic for tomorrow’s Audience participation Friday is going to be “What do you believe about predestination and/or baptism, and how do you feel about people who believe otherwise?” [ed. note: I’m kidding].

      BT, I’d be interested to know what you mean when you say you loved The Road. Did you love it because you learned something valuable? Because you felt something you needed to feel? If you’ve got more to say about how it clarified your sense of responsibility to your son, I’d love to hear it.

      Gina, I’m afraid that if you were any smarter, we’d all be in trouble.

  • B.T.
    9:43 PM, 19 November 2010

    Much of what I loved about The Road was what I brought to it. At the same time that I was reading it, I was going through a parenting crisis…when to allow facebook. It sounds minor, but it was our first line in the sand as parents of a middle school-er. My son was pushing so hard, and I was not prepared. I was so wrapped up in his happiness and friendship that I was ignoring my responsibility to protect him and teach him. When I finished the book I just sobbed and sobbed and said aloud to myself “That is why you can’t have facebook yet…you are not ready, and the world is trying to eat you.” I just felt like I had grown up a little as a parent.
    Also, I think there was beauty in how the father loved the son. He was so tender and caring yet never traded what was in his son’s best interest for what might have been easier. I want to be more like that.

  • Jonathan Rogers
    9:50 PM, 19 November 2010

    Wow, BT. That’s exactly what I’m talking about. You make a great case. I do agree with you that there’s beauty in the way the father loves the son. Thanks for following up.

  • Kristy Dempsey
    12:27 AM, 30 November 2010

    Can I admit that what B.T. said (“That is why you can’t have facebook yet…you are not ready, and the world is trying to eat you.”) brought tears to my eyes and sums up my feelings about THE ROAD exactly. I can’t truly comment on THE ROAD because I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t. I knew the story arc before I tried to read it (I allowed myself to listen to someone telling me the story before I read it in order to try to insulate myself from the pain a bit) and in the end, I realized I couldn’t subject myself to it. Yes, I think there is a beauty in the way the father loves the son, but perhaps that is what breaks my heart even more in the end? I do admit that there is a certain level of TRUTH in the story, in the relationships — perhaps even in my fears — that I wasn’t willing to face. Perhaps I am still trying to (wrongly?) protect myself in the same way I wish I could protect my children?
    I am sure that my perspective is not quite right. I just know I couldn’t handle THE ROAD when I tried to read it.

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