Tree of Sacrament book cover.
Recently the Association for Mormon Letters posted a review of Tree of Sacrament, published by Eborn Books. The following is a repost of the review along with the author’s response to the review:
Reviewed by Harlow S. Clark
Eborn Books www.ebornbooks.com, www.treeofsacrament.com, 2011 Hardback:
ISBN-13: 978-1-6091955-5-7 Price: $19.95
Reviewed by Harlow Clark for The Association of Mormon Letters
In her memoir Reversals: A Personal Account of Triumph over Dyslexia, Eileen B. Simpson spends part of a chapter talking about famous dyslexics, including one who garnered this complaint from a reviewer: When will Mr. Andersen learn to spell the Danish language?
I’ve remembered that comment going on 30 years, partly for a stunning implication–the beloved Hans Christian Andersen (Danny Kaye) didn’t have an editor–or his publisher didn’t, just published the manuscripts as Andersen sent them. So how does a reviewer handle a poorly edited or unedited book?
Usually I say writing and editing are different skills and comment that quotes longer than three lines (especially longer than half a page) should be indented as block quotes, that the bibliography should be alphabetized by author’s last name, that the author uses en-dashes – throughout when he should be using em-dashes — , and that there are numerous inline citation formatting errors and no acknowledgments page for all the lengthy quotes and let it go.
But with this book I really struggled with the poor editing at first, wondering if what I was actually looking at was really poor writing from someone who didn’t have a style answerable to the subject matter. The bio says Galieti is a documentary filmmaker so I wondered what would be the visual equivalent of the lack of editing? Running continuity errors? Blips? Poor sound? Probably not something annoying enough to stop me from watching, something like the worn print of the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup I saw around 1975. So I kept reading, and I’m glad I did. One example, from pages 12-13, will suffice to show both the poor quality of the editing and the depth of the author’s insights:
Here in Beth-El, Jacob’s named was changed to Israel- a covenant name. According to the chapter heading of Genesis 35 in the LDS Edition of the Old Testament which reads, “God sends Jacob to Bethel, where he builds an altar and the Lord appears to him—God renews the promise that Jacob will be a great nation and that his name will be Israel—Jacob sets up an altar and pours a drink offering.” The Lord and Jacob (also referred to Israel at this point), hold a covenant renewal ordinance (Genesis 35:10-15) involving an altar and a drink offering.
I kept wondering why the phrase “which reads” was there. It implies a parenthetical statement followed by a comment. (For example: “According to the chapter heading, which reads, ‘his name will be Israel,’ Jacob changed his name.”) Take out the phrase “which reads” and the sentence works fine. But I still don’t know why the author cut and pasted the chapter heading from lds.org at all. (I know he cut and pasted because the em-dashes came through, the only place in the book where they appear–whether they’ll come through in the e-mail client I don’t know.) Why not just write: “Here in Beth-El the Lord and Jacob, now with the covenant name Israel, hold a covenant renewal ordinance (Genesis 35:10-15) involving an altar and a drink offering.”
I mention the poor editing not to embarrass anyone or out of a mean spirit, but because the first few pages made me dread reading the book, and if I hadn’t read it I would have missed some really fine insights. So I hope this printing sells out and there’s $100 in the budget for the second edition to get a few hours of a talented editor’s time.
And the insight that Jacob’s experience at Bethel is a covenant renewal ordinance with a drink offering is a particularly good insight. How many times have I read and heard that story without considering its sacramental typology? As I told my Gospel Doctrine class at the care center in a recent lesson, I had a seminary teacher who told us he and his wife had set out to read every word of the Old Testament and them promised the Lord they’d never do that again. I suppose he was referring to Leviticus and Numbers, with the names and censuses and all the rules for wave offerings and heave offerings and sin offerings and meat offerings and offering offerings.
I told my class Galieti’s book had given me a new way to think about the feasts. Reading some of the book’s insights I thought, “Why wasn’t that obvious to me, the sacramental nature of the feasts?” I think it may be the way we talk about the Last Supper: “He keeps the Passover and institutes the sacrament” the chapter heading for Matthew 25 reads, and the phrase “institutes the sacrament” also appears in the chapter headings for Mark 14 and Luke 22.
The word “institute” suggests starting something new, but Galieti’s few words helped me instantly understand that the sacrament was a renewal of an ancient covenant which always involved food and drink in a covenant renewal celebration.
Before I mention the part that most appeals to the poet in me, I want to mention a few of Galieti’s other insights. On page 17 he looks at the reference in III Nephi 19:32-34 to “sacred words . . . that were not recorded or uttered” and connects them not just to ceremonial words in the temple, but to “the confidential, or sacred, words of confession and repentance as given to righteous judges in Israel.”
And good insights inspire insights in the reader. Here’s a note I made about page 54: “Lehi sees the rod of iron after he’s already partaken of the fruit. I wonder if he thought, ‘Boy, if I had just been holding onto that rod I wouldn’t have had to pray for guidance.’ But of course prayer is a way of taking hold of the rod–which raises the question, do the people holding to the rod know they’re holding to the rod, or are they, like Lehi, simply praying for guidance through the darkness? And in this context what would ‘spare the rod’ mean? Are they scoffing back at the scoffers in the building? Is that the definition of culture war, scoffing at the scoffers?”
Galieti spends two or three pages talking about this dream, and about the people who eat of the tree, then cast their eyes down in shame, then see the people in the building. That sequence has always intrigued me, and I appreciate his suggestion that those are people who want to partake of the sacrament but do so unworthily.
But the most intriguing chapter is chapter 4, “Becoming a Tree of Life,” where he explores the typology and implications of the discourse about the seed and tree in Alma 32. I kept thinking, “This would make a wonderful topic for one of Galieti’s films.” I can see all kinds of imagery of the sacrament table cloth as a shroud transforming into a dove flying past a person growing into a tree. Hmm, a person growing into a tree–Speaker for the Dead.
The richness of transformation is not the only reason I would love to see the book’s typology rendered visually. We tend to think that all comparisons are metaphors, but metaphor is only a subset of comparison, the subset where the metaphorical meaning displaces the literal. The Book of Mormon talks a lot about another kind of comparison, types and shadows, where events mirror each other and typify each other, where they enrich each other, rather than one displacing the other.
We sing “The Lord is my light,” and that has the form of a metaphor, but then we read revelations like D&C 88 and find that the Lord’s relationship with light and truth is much deeper that the displacement of metaphor can ever capture. But a film can capture the richness of light. Film is light. All the images flickering on the screen are light, even the darkest. Take the tree on the dustjacket, add light, a tomb, an altar, a shroud, two people eating from the tree as light grows, as the Lord is my light and the Lord is my tree and the tree is my light, and the light is my Lord growing brighter and brighter until the perfect day (see D&C 50:24). The possibilities make one light-headed.
— Author’s response —
Naturally I wanted to review the review for my book, “Tree of Sacrament.” Since the review was less than positive, my first inclination was to disregard, downgrade, or otherwise find a way to reduce the value of the review and its impact. Enough time has passed for me to park some of the initial emotions and reactions to the review, but I still feel the need to respond for the benefit of both the standards of AML and for the book.
When I first opened the email with the review I commenced reading with youthful anticipation. However, as I started to read the first three paragraphs, I felt compelled to wonder if I was sent the wrong review. There is no mention of the book, the author, or even the subject matter, and I was left thinking that there must be some mistake. The first 20 percent of the total review was spent making this review more about editing than about the book itself. Was the purpose of this exercise to be impressed by the reviewers knowledge of editing techniques, or is this supposed to be a book review? The second bookend to this review is a long self-indulgent ramble about imagery that gives no summation on the book or even the subject matter introduced in the first three ambiguous paragraphs — the editing (note the “proper use” of em dashes). Good editing would call for the first three paragraphs of the review to be summed up or eliminated entirely. If I had spent the first 20 pages of my book talking about Hans Christian Anderson’s dyslexia and then went into the sacrament I would have been crucified. Perhaps the review could be rewritten in such a way that it is valuable instead of drowning in irony.
I understand that there might be some errors in formatting and I will concede that the book is sure to have its flaws. However, if I were unfamiliar with this book, the author, or even the reviewer, my first inclination would likely be, “Why would I read a book that sounds like it has been written by a third grader, or at least an adult with that level of grammar and comprehension?” I have had reviews from Robert Millet, Stephen Ricks, LeGrand Baker, Richard Bennet, and others. The book was initially edited by Dan Hogan and has been reviewed several times prior to publication. Not a single one of these individuals mentioned anything of the editing being a burden to read let alone in need of much editing at all. In fact, most of the scholars that reviewed the book have praise on the cover of the book and on the marketing material. The review itself is riddled with errors and even a part where Harlow ripped me for parenthetical use only to not follow his own advice in the end of the “review.”
Understanding that there is an air of displeasure and a disappointed filter coming from the recipient of the bad review, but I still feel there is a better way to review in general. In the end, “I mention the poor editing not to embarrass anyone or out of a mean spirit, but because the first few [paragraphs] made me dread reading the [review].”