Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Carrier Debate: Let the Trash-Talking Begin!

Richard Carrier has, happily, agreed to debate me in two weeks, at the University of Alabama--Huntsville. I'm hoping this will be a civil, ideally even friendly encounter, not to mention an enlightening one.  I think it's a good idea to answer objections and criticisms as they arise, though, and will do so as the need arises here.  (Also after the debate, if there is time, and if other issues need to be addressed.) 
Richard posted notice of our debate on his website.  One of his followers, calling him or herself Roo Bookaroo, then posted the following criticism: 
David Marshall’s name pops up in so many reviews or comments to reviews about Amazon books, that it would be instructive to give us a rundown on this writer, his resume, his strengths and his weaknesses (I was able to spot only weaknesses), his stand, and what degree of credibility we can attribute to him (beyond my too subjective evaluation).
Too often he seems to write a review or a comment to a review without having read the book, only to expatiate on his own credo.
I, for one, had come to the conclusion that his Amazon writings were not only tendentious, but empty of real analysis or authentic critique.
You likely know about this writer much more than we do, and would be willing to draw a portrait of him as a man and as a critic.
Roo is right to describe his / her perspective as "subjective," but that's only the half of it -- they are objectively wrong.

Reviewing and talking about books on Amazon has, indeed, been one of my hobbies for many years.  But in fact, of the 300 or so book reviews I've posted on Amazon (aside from print reviews), the vast majority of books I've read cover-to-cover.  There were only two or three instances, in the past 14 years, in which the book was so flagrantly awful, that I felt justified in reviewing it after reading just a chapter or two.  One does not need to dive into a cesspool to recognize it stinks.  But the rest, yes I do read, usually to the sometimes bitter end, but at least what I perceive as the meat of its argument.

And no, I don't review books to "expiate on my credo."  This is obvious to any honest observer.  I love (or hate) books for themselves, and often give "thumbs up" reviews to those by people I disagree with, and "thumbs down" reviews to books by my fellow Christians or Republicans or whatever the cause might be. 
As for the quality of my reviews,  so far they have garnered a total of about 8000 "helps" votes.  This would be enough, if they were all in one group, to put me about 200 among Amazon's millions of reviewers.  It's a good bet I'd be among the top 20, among reviewers of serious books.  And these are often reviews of the most controversial books of our time, and I often strongly contradict what other reviewers say about a given book.

Thoughtful books attract thoughtful people, and my reviews would not earn that much appreciation, I don't think, if they were as dogmatic and empty as Roo claims.  Are reviews like this, this, or this really "tendentious" and "empty of real analysis or authentic critique?"
An eminent New Testament scholar wrote me after reading some of the early ones nine years ago:

I enjoyed reading all 23 of your reviews for! You write well. I found them all interesting and some especially helpful.  I especially appreciated your review of Elaine Pagels' Beyond Belief . . . and P Jenkins' Hidden Gospels. Also the Jesus Seminar stuff. 

It turned out this scholar had been invited to join the Jesus Seminar himself.  He liked my stuff enough that he has invited me up to Canada (so far) four times, to speak in various forums. 

I've enjoyed reviews on Amazon by many thoughtful readers, some of them very skillful and insightful writers in their own right.  But I do think my reviews can hold their own. 

As for comments about reviews, customers don't need to read the book to post questions or observations below a book review, as long as you don't pretend you have read the book.  That's a completely different issue, and nothing to criticize at all. 

More criticisms have recently been posted on Carrier's site, a few of them more interesting than mere trash-talk.  If I have time (things have been humming lately), I'll discuss them a bit. 


No comments: