When reviewing a book written by a friend, there are two basic ways the thing could go, one of them very bad. Say that you had been duck hunting for forty years with your very bestest friend, and then, after retiring from his job as CEO of Whatsit, Inc. he gets it into his head to write a book, a novel, say, about the Amish End Times, and there are lots of apocalyptic bonnets, which is a disturbing thought in itself. He is a rich guy so he is going to have some vanity press do it up right, and he gives you the manuscript and asks you, his very best friend, to blurb it for him. Ten pages in and you are murmuring “shoot me now.” Twenty pages in and you have an inexplicable quarrel with your wife. Thirty pages in and you realize that you are already in the Amish End Times. The fiction has come to surrealistic life, and you are being chased through a spooky field in the gloaming, pursued by the Manure Slinger of Death. If you hadn’t guessed, this one is the bad scenario — when you get along famously with someone, except for that part of their brain that writes books. A part that you didn’t realize was there for all those years.
The other scenario is the happy one. A friend writes another book and you realize yet again what the basis of the friendship actually is. This was perhaps a roundabout way of introducing it all, but this month’s book selection is Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully by John Piper. This book, like John, is passionate and meticulous in equal measure, and on a topic like this it really needs to be. Without passion, poetic effort is dry and mechanical. Without meticulous care, poetic effort melts into a fairly large puddle of sensate lamesauce.
“This book is about the relationship between poetic effort, on the one hand, and perceiving, relishing, and portraying truth and beauty, on the other hand” (p. 17).
In the introduction, Piper addresses the dilemma which the apostle Paul created for all Christian wordsmiths when he rejected words of human wisdom. Does this restriction mean that we should labor to always say exactly the wrong thing the wrong way — the non bon mot? Non bon for short? Piper argues, very effectively, that the apostle was not rejecting a thoughtful use of words, but rather the sophistry that was very common in Corinth at the time.