“Dude, you have no Quran!” — Terry Jones, book reviewing, and the sin of sins


I didn’t have many thoughts about the Terry Jones Koran-burning stunt (or is the politically correct spelling “Quran,” nowadays?).  It seemed another of those strange boil-overs that are a regrettable byproduct in a nation that enshrines free speech.

What I didn’t understand was why a guy with — what? — maybe 20 followers gets a huge international spotlight, and a shout-out from a U.S. President, and fiery responses from national and even international leaders.  It seems to me that people like Jones should remain in the obscurity they so richly deserve.  (Surely Bibles are burned every day — why no protests there?)

Once he had become an international figure in the media, Jones responded clumsily and inadequately to his 15 minutes of fame, as one would expect. I doubt he ever met a Muslim.  In confusion, he called off the bonfire.  In any case, 18 Afghan men died in the riots that followed — real people died protesting an event that never happened.  Life gets more and more surreal.  (There’s something to be said for the burqa and female seclusion — it kept the women from the streets on that occasion.)

Then I read this in the Wall Street JournalThis, this is truly unforgiveable:

Pastor Jones, dressed in a dark suit, said at a press conference Friday that he had never read the book he intended to burn. “I have never read the Quran,” he said. His opposition to the book, he said, was rooted in his belief that it doesn’t contain the truths of the Bible.

In short, as Jacob Isom in the video above says, “Dude, you have no Quran!”

In not reading the book he condemns, Jones joins a club that includes a growing number of big-name book critics.  For example, Ana Marie Cox of the Washington Post:

I cannot claim to have completely read Going Rogue — I had to skim the last 150 pages (or more than one-third). I only got the thing into my hands late Monday afternoon with a deadline of early evening. It’s terrible, I know, but if I didn’t read it all, neither can Sarah Palin claim to have completely written it.

It's the thought that counts (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

I was speaking to a friend of the Dalai Lama’s yesterday, and he told me that the Dalai Lama hadn’t exactly penned the books under his name, either.  I wonder how many high-profile people were barely in the same room with their manuscripts before publication.  Are we now freed from having to read their books before reviewing them?  Or burning them, for that matter?  I think of all those conscientious late nights with coffee — I was determined to finish the book before I finished the review.  Am I hopelessly passé?

Nevertheless, the horror of Ms. Cox’s crime — writing a review of a book you hadn’t read — did not shame her out of appearing on MSNBC to discuss the book she hadn’t read.  No more than it kept Terry Jones from wanting to burn one.

I’ve written for the Washington Post Book World; I wonder how the editors would have reacted if I had admitted I had not read the book I was considering — and would they have published the admission?  Some reviewers get caught, of course.  A critic friend told me of a case where a music reviewer (was it for the San Francisco Chronicle?) cut out of a concert at halftime.  In reviewing the program, he didn’t realize that the program had been rearranged at the last minute, and hence he discussed pieces that were never performed.

Crime never pays.

In any case, a Facebook discussion on this topic turned up the Youtube video above.  As my friend Jim Erwin said, “A tiny spark of sensible behavior and a catchy tune.”  The guy in the video, incidentally, is a 23-year-old skateboarder who works in a pizza shop.

Enjoy.  I like happy endings.

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