Book review: Virtually Human

virtuallyuman Virtually Human: Flourishing in a Digital World
Ed Brooks and Pete Nicholas
IVP: Nottingham, 2015

First I want to say that this book is fine. If you’re looking for a way to start thinking about how you interact with different kinds of technology, especially online, as a Christian, you’ll find some very helpful things here. As I read through it, I agreed with pretty much everything the authors said, though in a few places I wanted a little bit more nuance. I also think it’s a difficult sort of book to write, given the constantly changing nature of technology, and on the whole I think they did a good job of being specific enough to be useful, but general enough to continue to be useful for years to come.

BUT, I didn’t enjoy reading the book, and I want to talk a bit about why, because I don’t think these issues are limited to this particular book.

I’ve read a lot of Christian books over the years. In particular, I’ve read a lot of this sort of book, aimed at the ordinary Christian in the pew, addressing a specific issue of doctrine, life or Bible study. I’ve never read one about Christians and digital media before, and given that my job is online, I was looking forward to this.

I was bored. Especially in the first part of the book, I was very bored. As the authors gave their version of a biblical theology I’ve read in practically every book of this kind, I couldn’t help but wonder why they’d chosen to focus only on the creation and fall in Genesis 1-3 and then leapt forward to the cross, as they explained their ‘yes and no’ to technology.

There’s an amazing thing about the Bible, which is that it is deep and rich and multi-layered and complex and glorious. Yet, so often, we reduce it to the same short summary. It’s not that the summary is wrong, just that it is limited. I think there would be a fascinating biblical theology to be told about technology. From Adam and Eve’s first ‘clothes’, through the construction of the tower of Babel and idols like the golden calf, as well as the proper use of technology in building the tabernacle. You’d still get the sense of human creativity and ingenuity, flowing from their creator. And you’d certainly understand the sinful ways in which humanity perverts the use of technology.

So that’s the first thing. I wanted a deeper, richer, fuller, more thoughtful and nuanced engagement with the Bible and technology. Every so often the book hints at more but doesn’t take the time to explore those questions.

The second thing I want to say about why I didn’t much enjoy reading this, is that the writing is (mostly) functional but far from beautiful. The prose is sometimes awkward, as if it has been transcribed from speech. There are far too many questions interrupting the flow for the reader. I don’t know whether some of these issues stem from the difficulty of co-authoring, or the admission in the acknowledgements that the first draft was written over the course of several late nights.

I do think that editors have a very important role to play here. Good books don’t just need good ideas, they also need good writers. And writers need the help of good editors to become good writers.

It’s as true now as it was when Ecclesiastes was written that ‘Of the making of many books there is no end.’ But please could we work a bit harder at making better books, even if that means making slightly fewer books?

RNA Conference

Is happening. Today, tomorrow and Sunday. I am only going today and tomorrow and, since it is happening half an hour away from where I live, I am going as a day visitor. I write this from the comfort of my own home at the end of the first day.

It’s being held at the agricultural college where my brother was a student, many years ago, and which is now calling itself a university. I mean, it is a university and they are allowed to call themselves that, but it is still basically an agricultural college. I spent some happy minutes communing with the cattle and then falling in love with some tiny baby piglets that were only a couple of hours old. Outside, it smells like a proper farm, which makes me very happy.

Inside, there were no farm smells.

There was a LARGE goody bag. I have divided the contents into: readable stuff (7 books!), useful stuff (pens, paper, cards), edible stuff (chocolate, biscuits, tea bag), and other stuff (flyers, postcards, business cards). I was going to be really dismissive about the value of the ‘other stuff’ except I have already bought one book on the basis of the bookmark (Say it with Sequins). Whereas I have eaten all the chocolate and haven’t bought any of the books they were supposed to advertise. So there’s something. The teabag is a really brilliant idea for residential conferences, I think.

Anyway, I was loitering forlornly in the reception area when someone waved me over enthusiastically. To point out that I was wearing my cardigan inside out. Excellent. Turns out she wrote that fun re-telling of Much Ado About Nothing I read earlier this year.

And then, and then one of the people I REALLY wanted to talk to came over to say hello to me! Amy Andrews who was only there today, in the middle of a family holiday to the UK. We had a great chat and I only wished I’d had longer to pick her brains properly. But then we were joined by Fiona Harper and Lucy King and I started to get all starstruck.

The first session I went to was a Mills and Boon thing. The main take home message was: Everyone wants to be Sarah Morgan*, a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly concur.

Then I broke half the teacups by mistake. In the manner of a cutely klutzy romance heroine, perhaps. Though no dashing hero stepped forward to rescue me so I ran away. And then Jessica Hart asked me if I was Ros who did the funny tweets and I no longer cared about anything else.

After ‘tea’ there was the main welcome session which was a mix of tedious housekeeping and announcements of various achievements. I am ashamed to admit that I got the giggles at the announcement of a book which comes with accompaniment of folk music composed and performed by the author. Courtney Milan, your enhanced ebooks have some way to go to beat that.

I went to the M&B single title session next and spent the time outlining a book set on a cruise ship. And then I went to the drinks party sponsored by Amazon Independent Publishing. Thanks for the warm orange juice, Amazon! And then I had had enough of people so I came home. I bought fish and chips on the way and ate them out in the garden. Lovely.

Tomorrow I have to get up Very Early because I have an appointment with a M&B editor to talk about my sheikh book. The appointment is not that early but there is a local show happening two fields away from the agricultural college and I predict that the traffic will be vile.

But tonight I am giving books away! I already gave the Sarah Morgan book away on twitter, and I’m keeping a couple of the others, but I have these up for grabs. I’ll chuck in some of the other swag too, probably (unless you live on the other side of the world and it makes the postage extortionate). Just leave a comment and I’ll contact the winner of each next week.

DSCF4131

DSCF4130

DSCF4129

DSCF4128

*Okay, there was more to it than that. And possibly some people don’t want to be Sarah Morgan, more fool them.

Don’t buy my books

Not this week, anyway.

This week I want you to buy someone else’s books.

Friend, and fellow Entangled author, Jackie Barbosa had the worst news imaginable last week. Her teenage son died in a car crash on the way to school. The family have set up a memorial fund in his name, to be used as a scholarship fund. You can donate to it here.

Jackie has more important things to be doing right now than promoting her books, which is why Beverley Kendall and Courtney Milan are co-ordinating responses from bloggers, authors, reviewers and anyone else who wants to help, to make sure that we can carry that small burden for her at the moment.

She’s written some great books, especially if you like your romance a little on the sexy side. Her Entangled title is Skin in the Game. I really enjoyed Hot Under The Collar – a historical novella about a rakish vicar!
skin

She’s got a couple of free stories available too, if you’d like to give her work a try. (Scroll down to the bottom of this page for a couple of other free stories on her website.)
revier

It’s hard to know how to help an online friend who lives so far away when tragedy hits. I’m glad to be able to do at least this small thing for Jackie. And because I really, really want you to buy and read her books, I’m going to add a little incentive. Leave a comment to this post before April 1st telling me you’ve bought one of Jackie’s books this week, and I’ll enter you into a draw for a $10 Amazon gift card.

ETA (because I should have known what everyone would say) that I will match the prize with a donation to the memorial fund, of course. But I’d still like you to buy more books!

What’s on my Kindle

Some things I’ve been reading lately:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
This is for the March Big Fat Book Readalong. I’m at 38% and thoroughly enjoying it. If you (like me) have had a copy sitting on your shelf for years, pick it up! Or do what I did and get a digital copy. So much easier to carry around and track progress.

Satisfaction by Sarah Mayberry
I enjoyed this quite a lot. Miss Bates has a good review of it (and see my comment for my own view).

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
I’ve been in a group read of this with several twitter friends. I’m glad to have read it but I don’t think MacLean is really for me. I don’t mind suspending disbelief, but this one was off the scale O_o.

For His Eyes Only by Liz Fielding
This was lovely, even if the set-up was pretty implausible. Sculptor meet estate agent. Beautiful houses, beautiful art, beautiful romance.

Much Ado about Sweet Nothing by Alison May
Cleverly done modern telling of Much Ado about Nothing. She even managed to make me enjoy a book written in multiple first person present tense POVs. Warning: there is a somewhat ambiguous ending for one of the romantic storylines. The other is proper HEA.

What about you? Read anything good lately?

What’s occurring*

New places to buy!

I have been wrestling with the arcane Google Play interface and finally worked out how to get my books up for sale there. At the moment, you can buy the Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh, All I Want for Christmas, Table for One, The Tycoon’s Convenient Wife, and Ros Clarke Romances. I’ll be putting the rest up in the next few weeks.

New books to buy!
if cover
Island Fling, a short story set mostly on a remote Scottish island, is now available to pre-order at Barnes and Noble. It will be on sale there and all the normal places on March 24th.

An Unsuitable Husband, the sexy French footballer book, will be on sale in April. I’ve had my first peek at the cover and whew, it is HOT.

New projects on the go

I’m revising the sheikh story to submit later this month and then I shall be starting something new, hooray! I think it’s going to be a boss/secretary story. Female boss, male PA. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Kind of like an old school Presents, with a little bit of role-reversal and trope subversion, which is my favourite kind of book to write.

New reading challenge
The Vacuous Minx decided that March was the month for reading Big Fat Books and invited others to join her. I’m reading Wolf Hall which has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, while I guiltily avoided catching its eye. But I have stumped up for a kindle version and jumped in. It is wonderful. I think I will be finished long before the end of March. Have you got a Big Fat Book you’d like to read and need a little extra motivation? Why not join us?

*The BBC are getting rid of BBC3. That is not what this post is about.

Ros Clarke Romances

The print anthology has landed! I’ve just approved the proof copy and it’s now available to buy at Lulu. In due course it will also be available via Amazon and other online retailers. Here’s the blurb:

Three fun, sexy romance novellas from Ros Clarke including:
Reckless Runaway at the Racecourse
Teasing, testing, tempting Fliss Merrick is the worst sort of distraction for calm, orderly racehorse trainer Luke Caldecott. Before he knows quite what’s happened, she’s in his home and in his life. Now he has to work out how to hold on to her.
The Tycoon’s Convenient Wife

Fifteen years ago, Emily Standish and Guy Munro were friends. Until she fell in love with him and he married someone else. Now Guy needs an enormous favour from his old friend and Emily has a chance to see if love can strike twice.
Flirting with the Camera
Hattie Bell is beautiful, brilliant and bigger than your average plus-sized model. Sparks in the studio of top fashion photographer, Tom Metcalfe, set off a sizzlingly sexy affair that has both of them revealing more than they’d bargained for.

And it has a shiny new cover:

DSCF3952

DSCF3954

Would make an ideal Christmas present for anyone who likes reading romance novellas in print anthology format. It’s £10.99 but if you buy it today, there’s a 30% off code: #decktheshelf which makes it not much more than the combined price of the digital books. Bargain!

1 2