It’s All Over but the Preachin’

17th August 2011

I picked up a book last night (shocker, I know) and began reading. It’s really a fascinating book about the housing styles throughout American history and how they reflect the lifestyles of the time. However, about a third of the way through reading it, I interrupted it to post:

Because the dude is talking about conservation and environmental affairs, and heck yeah, I’m on board. I will NOT, however, build my house out of hay. I will also not NOT have air conditioning when it’s like 100 million degrees outside. So there. Then, one of my wonderful Twitter followers posted this:

Have I mentioned how much I love you witty people? Because I do. Touche, @scarletncream, touche.

Here’s the deal: Do I think books, non-fiction or fiction, should avoid politics, current affairs, and moral issues? Of course not. Look at me. I’m a teacher. I don’t go in for censorship. Obviously, I’m not telling you I want my books devoid of such things.

HOWEVER. I also really don’t like being hated on for an entire book because I use a computer or turn a lamp on when I go to bed. The premise? The author is talking about different housing styles and how each evolved and why. I could see a couple well-placed statements in the Intro (which, coincidentally, are there). But the author never misses an opportunity to tell me what an awful person I am for owning an iPod or getting in my car to drive to work. I am a human being in the 21st century. Scratch that. I am a human being who lives in Texas in the 21st century. People die in this heat. So, come on. If I can, you know, not die because of central air, I’m good with that.

These thoughts all converged this morning, particularly because I find the subject matter, outside of the harping, really interesting. And I thought to myself: when is too much too much? Is it the writing style I find offensive more than anything?

The answer to this, I would say, probably differs reader to reader. For me, it isn’t usually bothersome unless it’s blatant, which this is. However, I know I have read blatant political statements in books (Sarah Vowell comes to mind) without really being annoyed.

So, I’m curious – have you ever read a “preachy” book? What constitutes too much preaching in your book?

  • Anonymous

    This is one of the things that I try to get across to my students with varying degrees of success – there is a way to get your point across and express your opinions without alienating or out-right attacking the reader. Teach by example. Don’t berate me. That just makes me defensive, and then I stop reading. And stopping a book is not a decision that I make lightly.

    There is definitely such a thing as too much preaching!

    • Exactly. I will still finish the book, but I’m sure I’ll be really ticked by the time I finish. Not really what you want to do if you want to sell books.

  • I decidedly sympathize with you: don’t yell at me ’cause I’m reading your book. And here’s another angle, which I have recently experienced: you, author, can actually damage your cause by yelling too loudly about it. Case in point: County: Life, Death and Politics in Chicago’s Public Hospital, which I mostly loved but also mourned over a little, because he has a GOOD cause that is overwrought. Review to come on my blog. (Dated case in point: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickled and Dimed. Remember that one?)

    As for Texas in the heat… hello from Houston ๐Ÿ™‚ and I always like to remind people that back in the days before a/c, we built houses with air circulation in mind. Fans and air flow front-to-back and sides to sides, etc. They used to do it here, but it was EASIER then, I think. Slightly. Still awful though.

    • Yes, most definitely re: damaging point. It’s such a turn off.

      Ah! Hello to you, too. I cannot imagine pre-AC days. Really. Cannot imagine.

  • There is a lot to be said for letting the material speak for itself; there’s also a lot to be said for effective rhetoric: what reader wants to feel like he or she is being hit over the head for 300 pages?

    • Right. A little goes a long way – in fiction or non.

  • Oh, I get childishly stubborn over preaching. I read this book on organic food once, which was so bloody patronizing that it was enough to put me off organic food for life. Not quite the intent of the book ๐Ÿ™‚

    Not that I could not appreciate the points that were made, it was just this assumption that if for some reason I choose not to follow or am not able to follow his recommendations, then I am just lazy/unwilling to change/not educated enough person.

    Preachy is bad, patronizing is worse

    • YES! You’re right. Maybe you’ve hit the nail on the head. Maybe it’s when it takes it one step further. Good writing should make you want to do something, not defensively take a stand just because.

  • Yvette

    I dislike being preached to as well. One reason I rarely read ‘issue’ books. By the same token – in fiction, don’t mind if an issue is slipped in while I’m not looking just as long as it doesn’t take over the book and the characters.

    • Exactly. Balance is everything.

  • I just read a book on the Tudors, Anne Boleyn specifically. I’m aware that she was one of the forerunners for the Reformation and basically getting a new religion to take hold during that time, but it was way too pro Protestants and anti Catholic for me. And I adore this time period. While I know I will never find a novel about Anne Boleyn that doesn’t mention the Reformation, but I believe that there is a way to discuss such topics without getting preachy.

    Also a huge negative was that this author is well known in the Christian Fiction genre but during all the info that I got with the book for the blog tour that was never mentioned, nor was it mentioned in the synopsis then it got really preachy. I’m apathetic when it comes to religion, and I still would have read the book had I known, but a little warning would have been nice. I was expecting a different kind of book than what I got.

  • Gie

    preachy books are almost always boring, or if not, it irritates me. I would prefer to get the moral of the story by reading the whole book and reflecting on it, thank you very much. lol ๐Ÿ™‚ I hope it’s not too obvious that I agree with you.

    btw, your door looks very nice ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yes indeed. Let me ferret it out without shoving my nose in it. Gah!

      And thanks for the comment on my door. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I finished Sapphire’s The Kid after about three weeks of slogging through it. I found it to be preachy and put off reviewing the damned thing bc I felt like the only person in the world that hated it. The thing I hated most? The preachiness.

    • I hate to hear that because I loved Push. But yeah – that is so annoying.

  • Agnesmack

    I read a book years ago called “Not Buying It : My Year Without Shopping.” Supposedly it was a book about shedding our consumer culture for a year and…blah blah. It ended up being both super, annoyingly preachy and also totally inauthentic. Your post reminded me of it and made me repost my review of it from years ago, which you can read here : http://agnesmackbooks.wordpress.com/2011/08/25/review-not-buying-it-my-year-without-shopping-by-judith-levine/

    Preachy is bad, really bad – especially when it’s a sentiment you agree with. But when it’s preachy and also hypocritical, well, then it just makes me punchy.

    • Just read your post and loved it. Yeah – it’s bad, and I’ll copy you: it makes me punchy too. Which is why the book is no longer on my nightstand, though I’m sure I’ll get to it eventually…

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