Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Amazing Grace (the book)

It's definitely been William Wilberforce week! In addition to seeing the new movie on the British reformer, I've been reading Eric Metaxas' new biography, also called Amazing Grace.

I wish I could recommend it strongly, but I really can't. I see that Mr. Metaxas has been published in the The New York Times, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and other prestigious places, and Amazing Grace has made the NYT Bestseller list. That's a great deal more success than I'm likely ever to have. And it isn't that he doesn't marshall his facts well. But in this book, his style often just drives me crazy! He'll be going along fine, and then suddenly he's writing like a bright high school sophomore who has just been been given a reference book of standard metaphors and hackneyed phrases. For instance:

Wilberforce may have been crazy like a fox, but [Whig politician Charles James] Fox himself was so often drunk as the proverbial skunk that Wilberforce wisely decided to forego badgering him about becoming involved. Even if Fox had initially assented to lend his name to the cause, it seems likely that he may have eventually weaseled out of any real commitment anyway, and it is always possible that, given his affection for dissolute living, he may even have become a mole for the opposition.

If this paragraph was an isolated incident in the book, it would be just a momentary irritation, and might even be a refreshing bit of humor, but it isn't; there's a parade of such passages every few pages. I've had to put the book down several times because the cutesy artifice was so grating. What is the stylistic purpose of such stuff? Sure beats me.

Why take an author to task when I'm so much on his side? Exactly because I am on his side. I care about how these topics are presented to a skeptical, secular, religion-suspicious public. When an author (or a speaker or blogger or anyone else) goes off the rails and writes or speaks poorly, it reflects badly on the topic and the point of view. Makes me crazy.

But not like a fox.