A Review of The Book I Really, Really Didn’t Want To Read

For The Love: A review of the book I really didn't want to read.

So, Jen Hatmaker’s book For The Love released last week. If you have been wondering about the girly fan scream resounding around the internet for the past few months, that’s what the fuss has been about. Rather than go the traditional route for gaining endorsements (getting other well-known writers to say they love your book), Jen—whose friends describe her as “the poster girl for Christianity”—invited 500 of her readers to join her launch team and spread the love for For The Love.

They did a spectacular job. Let me describe it Seuss-style: Cheers here, cheers there, you’ll find cheers everywhere!

So much cheering, in fact, that I found myself really torn about whether I wanted to read this book. I really like Jen Hatmaker’s writing: I follow her on Facebook and Twitter, read her blog, and have read Interrupted and ‘7’… but I also really didn’t want to find myself joining the ranks of the screaming groupies. Because, #lame.

But a friend challenged me that my attitude was more than a little bit pouty, and that everyone-else-loving-it was no reason for me to not read it (what are you? twelve years old?), and so, just in time to take hold of all Hatmaker’s brilliant promotional promise to send extra goodies if you pre-ordered the book, I pressed “order” on Amazon.

Here’s what I loved about this book: It’s quintessentially Jen Hatmaker.

It’s down-to-earth, peppered with humor and wisdom and the brass-tacks gospel. “Life is complicated,” she says, “but Kingdom is simple.” With essays on parenting, fashion (for the love of yoga pants!), church, poverty, hospitality, friendship, supper clubs and aging, it covers all the topics where women in Christendom wrestle and could use a good dose of laughter and a “keep it real” pep talk. That, after all, is the goal of her book: the subtitle “fighting for grace in a world of improbable standards.”

Tucked between the chapters are some sidesplittingly funny “thank you notes””: bite-sized morsels of sarcasm which throw the suburban woman’s life into a delicious new perspective. For example:

“Thank you, Obvious Warning Labels. Without you I might have stuck my kid in a washing machine, lit a match near an open gas line, used my hair dryer while sleeping, or God forbid, not realized eggs may contain—wait for it—eggs. I have no idea how I ever function without you. (I almost ingested the contents of a lava lamp just yesterday, but your label made another quick save God bless.)”

See? Hilarious.

And so, I need to confess, that much as I didn’t want to love this book, I really did. I want my mom and sisters and friends and All The Women, really, to read it – because we could all use words like this: truth delivered with grace and just enough snark to make it not just welcome but delightful. It’s refreshing. It’s so truthfully true. You should read this book.

But that’s not the end. There was something of a niggle as I read it, and I’ve been trying to put my finger on it.

Here’s what was hard for me about the book: it’s quintessentially Jen Hatmaker.

This book felt more like of a collection of social media updates and blog posts published on paper to me than a “book” book. It was if social media has too short of a news cycle, and so all the wonderfulness of Jen needed to be preserved in a more lasting (and lucrative?) format. Books are so much better than blogs at that. The book is touted as a “collection of essays”, but it varies SO MUCH in tone: from sarcastic hilarity (see yoga pants, above), to vicarious letters (the “dear kids” chapter is poignantly beautiful), to heart-wrenching appeals (the letter to the church and pastors, for example). The thank you notes are pure comic relief. And then there’s the fact that I recognized significant portions of the books from her blog and Facebook updates: the altogether marvelous “sweet and spicy families” descriptions, for example (WWAVD is my favorite new acronym.. because what would Ann Voskamp do in this situation?).  And then there’s the reconstructed story of her life told in Twitter-format (although some of them seemed significantly longer than 140 characters) #butwhoscounting #shereallyloveshashtags: funny, but not an essay.

Here’s the other thing (and I think this says more about me than it does about the author), but I had a lot of relational insecurity reading the book. Jen writes as if you are her best friend, and she’s drawing you close and showing, with personal examples from her own life, how similar all our lives are. And yet, the intimacy of the embrace sometimes emphasized the gap: the space I’m not in. She writes of how we’re all in the same boat, but is also honest about how different her life is (about 5 different people managing her calendar and kids, for example, or the fact that she is so-well-known, the writer of multiple-books, traveler to multiple-conferences etc). I just felt… disoriented. Because the book makes me feel close, but really – I’m not. The book shows me our common ground, and yet her challenges sometimes fall into the category of #famouspeopleproblems. (However, if you want to be my FB friend, Jen, I’ll accept :))

But what else could she do? She’s loved for a reason, and I really do believe she loves her readers. It’s just a little strange to have discovered as I read that I’m a groupie, after all. And, for the love of all that is life-giving, you should be too.

7 thoughts on “A Review of The Book I Really, Really Didn’t Want To Read

  1. I have the same mixed feelings for the same reasons. I did read a couple of her earlier books before I moved to the USA and enjoyed her style. I will probably get round to reading it eventually…

  2. Bronwyn, this was really helpful. I have been wrestling with adding it to my audible playlist. I do commend her for releasing the book in audio right away! I felt that similar closeness/separation to Jennie Allen as well.

  3. Excellent review. I have the book and have resisted reading it, too. Probably because I always resist a craze – and even felt annoyed when I was engaged at the same time as every other senior girl at my Christian college. I own it. So, I’ll read it. And I’ll probably become a fan girl, too.

  4. Great review. I also liked the book in the way that it was funny and put some things into perspective and she has a really upbeat, “i don’t even care what people say about me” kind of person, which I need more of in my life.

    At the same time, I also recognized that many of the chapters were word-for-word blog posts, and felt disappointed and a little bit tricked (shouldn’t there be some disclaimers about that??).

    I felt a little bit hollow at the very end. Don’t get me wrong, I have community- I’m in a life group at our church, I hang out with various families at least once a week, but I still felt like I was missing out on this “awesome community life” after reading about her life. There was one quote from her husband about like “Can you believe this is our life?” which is SO GOOD. I wish that everyone had that attitude. I wish I had that attitude. But at the same time, I felt guilty that I don’t always feel that way about my life because, well, sometimes life is lonely and hard and many days are monotonous and I don’t feel like I’m changing the world (as Jen kinda communicates should be what we’re aiming for)– well, I guess maybe I am, one meal and PTO meeting at a time, right? 😉

    All this to say, thanks for this honest review! Here’s mine:
    http://tiffanymalloy.com/2015/08/30/review-for-the-love-fighting-for-grace-in-a-world-of-impossible-standards/

  5. Thanks, friend. I won’t read it–mostly I have too many things I’d rather read–and because you gave a thoughtful, gracious review I can better fumble around all the talk about it. 🙂 I think your part about “famous people problems” nailed my largest disquiet and avoidance of reading books published by certain bloggers. Well said.

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