Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them by John Ortberg (Zondervan, 2003)

This book started off with two strikes against it, but survived.

First, it was recommended as a “must read” from someone I care about, and coupled with a feeling of time pressure, which in my oddball psyche immediately sets up a cycle of resistance followed by guilt leading to more resistance, etc.  Don’t ask me why, but I’ve been like that as long as I can remember.  It was decades before I discovered that most of the books recommended to me, as a child, by my parents were really good stories.  I was out of school before conceding that some (not all) of the books I was forced by my teachers to read were actually interesting.  And I still haven’t finished Colossians Remixed, which I started in 2005….  Stupid, I know.  It's not that I don't ever take other people's reading recommendations; many of my favorite books I learned about from someone else.  But for whatever reason, obligation + time pressure = irrational barrier.

Second, I realized immediately that it is written in a style I cannot stand, which I call “modern American evangelical pop culture,” though I suspect it’s much more widespread than that.  It’s annoying enough that magazine articles use pull quotes and sidebars, which make sustained reading difficult by distracting from the main text, but I find it inexcusable in book format.  Ditto the dumbed-down writing, and the highly informal style, more appropriate for blogs than for books.

Despite these annoyances, I finished the book and am glad I read it.  The first hurdle was easy to overcome because I was reading a borrowed book with a fixed return deadline.  My breakthrough with the second was a stunning realization that I hope will aid me in appreciating more books written in this (all too common) style.

The revelation came when someone commented that popular speakers who want to write books need especially good editors, because what works well in a talk often translates poorly into written form.  John Ortberg, as it turns out, is a pastor.  A preacher, not a writer.  And he could have used a better editor.

So I changed my attitude.  Instead of strictly reading the book, I imagined that I was listening to a TED talk.  Voilà!   Suddenly the inane asides drew a laugh, the offensive jokes lost much of their sting, and the casual style seemed more natural.

Finally able to concentrate on the content of the book, I was able to finish and to appreciate it.  I’m not as enthusiastic as the person who recommended it to me, but Ortberg definitely has some good ideas about friendship, community, and our expectations.  Fortunately, not having the book with me, I can’t illuminate the point with quotations.  I say “fortunately” because there are several I would be tempted to brandish with a “See?  See?  He agrees with me!”  Which is not usually a productive form of communication.

Everybody’s Normal is not a great book.  But it could be a valuable book study for a group desiring to take their community life beyond the surface level.  For individuals, too—but I think greater benefit would accrue in a situation where the chapters (or even paragraphs) could be the focus of discussion.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 11:20 am | Edit
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I'm glad you made it through your barriers. I'm actually not as enthusiastic as I was when I first read it. That enthusiasm came when I realized that multiple people in my life who often disagree with each other can say, "See? See? He agrees with me!" to different parts of the book. This is why I thought it would be so helpful. I'm still working through my second reading, taking notes about those different parts.

Posted by joyful on Saturday, March 03, 2012 at 7:40 pm